PEEKSKILL, N.Y.—The Second Amendment debate is academic for many Americans—speculation with friends over what-if scenarios and the concept of God-given rights.
On Oct. 7, those rights hit home for Adam Edelman (not his real name) and others in New York’s Jewish community, who were horrified by the Hamas terror attack on Israel and the massacre of 1,200 people.
Then, days later, while he was sitting in his small business outside New York City, pro-Palestinian protestors were marching just miles from his office.
He began recalling his grandparents’, aunts’, and uncles’ accounts of the beginning of the Holocaust. And how he could protect his family in a state that restricts his Second Amendment rights.
Mr. Edelman spoke with The Epoch Times on condition of anonymity out of concern for his family’s safety.
“Well, look, the parallels are there. They’re openly screaming ‘Death to Jews,’” Mr. Edelman told The Epoch Times. “If they had a chance, they would eradicate all the Jews. They would do it.”
Gun rights activists hailed the June 23, 2022, U.S. Supreme Court ruling in New York State Rifle and Pistol Association v. Bruen that citizens have a constitutional right to carry a gun in public for self-defense.
They see the decision as the bookend to the 2008 decision in District of Columbia v. Heller, in which the court ruled that the Second Amendment guarantees an individual right to keep and bear arms.
But not all legislatures celebrated.
In many blue states, where strict gun laws are the norm, legislatures took the opposite path. California, Oregon, Illinois, Washington, and other states implemented more firearms restrictions or refitted existing laws to the new standard.
Washington, Illinois, and Delaware joined the seven other states that banned certain types of semi-automatic rifles, so-called assault weapons.
Other states added prohibitions on where guns could be legally carried, expanding their lists of “sensitive places.”
The centerpiece of New York’s reaction to Bruen was the Concealed Carry Improvement Act (CCIA), announced on Aug. 31, 2022.
The CCIA increased the training required for a license, expanded the number of places where concealed carry was prohibited, made in-person interviews and a review of an applicant’s social media accounts mandatory, and reduced the license recertification period from five years to three years.
Gov. Kathy Hochul’s office didn’t respond to an interview request. But in a July 1 speech touting a law mandating background checks for ammunition purchases, Ms. Hochul said New Yorkers’ Second Amendment rights would be protected.
“We know this has nothing to do with lawful gun owners, nothing to do with them at all. These are people who have been convicted of felonies or other categories of people that should be prohibited from firearms and ammunition,” she said.
Mr. Edelman said that the restrictions have turned out to have much to do with law-abiding citizens.
He is a federal firearms license holder, gun dealer, and New York state and NRA firearms instructor. He said that since the Oct. 7 attacks, demands for his firearms license class have increased as the threats from protestors have overridden the political leanings of many in the Jewish community.
“I live in a very, very liberal area. A lot of those people are coming to me like, ‘What do we need to protect the house?’ These are the people who never thought they would ever need to buy a gun,” Mr. Edelman said.
As the process plays out, Jewish applicants will be left unarmed as their enemies march, Mr. Edelman said.
“There are a number of laws that are really precluding law-abiding citizens from first acquiring firearms and exercising their right to defend themselves,” Mr. Edelman said.
The city of Peekskill is in the hills on the east bank of the Hudson River, about 10 miles south of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and 43 miles north of New York City.
At 1000 Division Street in Peekskill, The Hat Factory houses a milk distribution company, a yoga studio, and Donahoo Consulting, among other businesses, offices, and art studios.
Steve Donahoo, owner of Donahoo Consulting, is a retired New York City police officer. He’s a gregarious, outgoing man who jokes that if a clean desk is the sign of a sick mind, then he “must be healthy.”
Like Mr. Edelman, Mr. Donahoo is an NRA-certified instructor and teaches the New York state licensing course. And, like Mr. Edelman, he often has to encourage students to persevere through a licensing process that may seem interminable.
Mr. Donahoo pointed out that the state-required training is only the first step.
Each county and New York City has additional requirements. Failure to comply with them can put the entire process on hold.
He recounted the story of one student whose county required that all application forms downloaded from the internet be printed on both sides of the page. The student printed his forms on one side of each page and was told by county officials he could reapply again in a year.
“It’s a big commitment to get a pistol license nowadays,” Mr. Donahoo said.
And it’s a big commitment to keep one.
Both men said that New York has no stand-your-ground law, or castle doctrine. Licensed gun owners still have a legal duty to retreat, even in their homes. A firearm is considered a means of last resort. Even then, the state often doesn’t recognize an individual’s right to self-defense.
Law Calls For Duty to RetreatMr. Edelman spoke of a case in which one of his students, who was legally carrying his pistol, was arrested and charged with a crime. The man was the president of a co-op board and had been asked to talk with a person who was acting strangely.
At one point, the co-op board president felt threatened. He drew his licensed firearm and asked the man to leave, which he did. Mr. Edelman said no shots were fired and no one was injured in the nonviolent confrontation.
The co-op board president was arrested and charged with a crime. Mr. Edelman uses the incident in his class to warn his students.
“Know that you will be arrested, there will be charges filed against you, it doesn’t matter if you did it in self-defense or not. This is the state we live in,” Mr. Edelman said.
The owner of a liquor store in North Tonawanda, New York, discovered that New York firearms regulations could cost him his livelihood even when there is no gunplay.
For Ian Brennan, the issue isn’t about self-defense, though he does support the right to carry. The 30-something business owner has always collected unique or unusual firearms, especially antiques.
“I’m a really big fan of history and everything like that.” Mr. Brennan told The Epoch Times as he pointed to the 1857 muzzleloader on the wall above the cash register at Yankee Spirits.
Mr. Brennan’s experience with New York gun laws began more than six years ago, with the death of his fiancée.
As he tells it, the young woman died unexpectedly, plunging him into grief. This led to an incident in which he was hospitalized briefly. Since doctors weren’t sure whether he was suicidal, the state confiscated his firearms as a precaution.
Eventually, Mr. Brennan showed that he didn’t want to hurt himself. After a year, his guns were returned and the case was closed. He thought that was the end of the matter until Oct. 21.
His father, who holds the store’s liquor license, has decided to retire. Mr. Brennan is to take over the business that’s been in his family for 33 years. Those plans and the future of the business are in jeopardy after a date with his new girlfriend.
Mr. Brennan said the woman wanted to learn how to shoot a rifle. He was happy to teach her, so they went to a little country store near his home to pick up a box of .22 caliber ammunition.
It was his first experience with New York’s new ammunition background check system. He had heard of some hiccups, but he expected that any problems would be solved quickly. After all, he has no criminal record.
Background Check Could End BusinessWhile waiting for the ammunition background check, he noticed the store had an antique Henry rifle for sale, so he filled out the federal background check paperwork for the gun.
He was surprised when federal officials approved the rifle but the state denied the ammunition sale. He left the store without the gun or the ammunition.
He was even more surprised a few days later when state police arrived at his door requesting his guns. They had no warrant, so he refused their request. Mr. Brennan has appealed the denial of his ammunition purchase while trying to determine precisely what’s on his record.
He’s been able to determine that the mental health episode that was resolved years ago is the reason the state denied the ammunition purchase. He said state officials have told him that the FBI considers him a mental health risk.
Mr. Brennan said the issue is no longer about buying ammunition. He has called on local and state officials to help him clear up the matter, which he says could cost him everything.
“In order to own a liquor license, you have to have a clean slate. So basically, with me falling under this category right now. I might not be able to have a liquor license, which means goodbye, career. Goodbye, business,” Mr. Brennan said.
Don Kilmer is an Idaho-based attorney specializing in Second Amendment law. He said this isn’t the first time the United States has been in this situation.
According to Mr. Kilmer, the reaction by some officials to the Bruen decision is similar to that of segregationists to the landmark August 1958 decision Brown v. Board of Education. In that decision, the High Court ruled that public schools in Arkansas must be integrated.
Arkansas Gov. Orval Faubus and the state Legislature activated the National Guard to prevent integration. The school board in Little Rock, Arkansas, petitioned the court for a two-year stay because of violent protests and disruptions at Little Rock’s Central High School.
“Now we are facing the reaction, the recalcitrance, the defiance of the Supreme Court in jurisdictions like California, New York, New Jersey, and Hawaii,” Mr. Kilmer said. “It’s a case about enforcing constitutional rights once they have been definitively and finally interpreted by the Supreme Court.
“Folks, we are in the Cooper versus Aaron era of the Second Amendment.”
Mark Smith, a constitutional attorney and host of the Four Boxes Diner Second Amendment Channel on YouTube, agreed. He said the strategy is de facto gun control through the courts.
He pointed out that gun rights activists have sued California, Illinois, New York, and other states. According to Mr. Smith, the plan is to get as many restrictions as possible and keep them in place as long as possible through drawn-out legal fights.
“While these cases are winding their way through the courts, [gun control activists will] be able to ... restrict the right to keep firearms as much as possible and really have a backdoor form of gun restriction the way we had before NYSRPA versus Bruen,” Mr. Smith told The Epoch Times.
The instructors said that although the court battles are essential, there is one sure way to preserve Second Amendment rights.
“The advice is this: Apply for a firearm [license], exercise the Second Amendment right; it is your right. You have the duty to defend and protect your family,” Mr. Edelman said.