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Jewish gun owner sues New York leader over law banning firearms in places of worship

NEW YORK — Jewish gun owners in New York state are suing state leaders over a new law banning the use of firearms in places of worship.

The lawsuit alleges that the law violates First Amendment protections regarding the free exercise of religion and Second Amendment guarantees for the right to bear arms. Jewish congregations cannot worship freely if they are unprotected or fearful, according to the complaint.

Two Jewish plaintiffs, Stephen Goldstein and Meir Ornstein, filed a lawsuit in New York’s Southern District Court on Thursday. Goldstein filed on behalf of the He Congregation Bnei Matisyahu, a small modern Orthodox synagogue in the Midwood neighborhood of Brooklyn.

New York Governor Kathy Hochul, Attorney General Letitia James, NYPD Commissioner Kiecchant Sewell, and several local officials are named as defendants. The lawsuit calls for a trial by jury.

New York’s Concealed Carry Improvements Act went into effect early last month, increasing requirements for carrying concealed firearms, including a ban on guns in “sensitive places” such as chapels.

“One of the main reasons people decide to buy and train with firearms is that they can protect themselves, especially when going to school, so many people are very concerned. [synagogue]said Zvi Waldman, founder of the Jewish Gun Club of New York, which organized the lawsuit.

Based in Rockland County, upstate New York City, which has a large ultra-Orthodox population, the club provides firearms training and advocacy for members of the Jewish community.

“Shul is an integral part of Haredi’s life in particular, so many people are concerned about it and many don’t want to be arrested,” Waldman said.

Democratic leadership in New York announced the Concealed Carry Improvement Act on July 1st. Concealed overturned previous state laws that required applicants for his permit to prove “good cause,” i.e. why the permit was needed. It was everything. The Supreme Court said the 1911 law was unconstitutional.

Ho-chol, who has relatively strict gun laws in the state, called the ruling “a reckless decision to remove centuries-old restrictions on who is allowed to carry concealed firearms in the state.” It’s set us back in meaning and endangers the safety of our residents.” Breaking the new law is a Class E felony, a serious offense, but the lowest level of felony.

Example: New York Governor Kathy Hochul at the State Capitol in Albany, New York, July 1, 2022. (AP Photo/ Hans Pennink, file)

Gun control laws are one of the major rifts separating conservatives and liberals in America. In 2021, nearly 49,000 of his Americans, including more than 26,000 suicides, will die from firearms, according to preliminary data from the CDC. New York has a relatively low rate of gun violence.

Waldman said gun ownership was “widespread” in religious Jewish communities, but people with firearms could upset children and other members of the congregation, and startle neighbors. I don’t want to, so I keep quiet. The gun club claims hundreds of members.

The lawsuit alleges that religious Jews spend a significant amount of time in synagogues, especially during Shabbat and holidays, and are prohibited from carrying legally licensed firearms during those times. Anti-Semitic incidents have reached record levels, with attacks almost daily, including against synagogues.

The gun club is based in Monsey, where an anti-Semitic machete-wielding attacker killed a Jewish man at a Hanukkah rally in a rabbi’s home in 2019. A few weeks earlier, two anti-Semites shot and killed several people at a Kosher supermarket in New Jersey.

Elsewhere in the United States, deadly attacks killed Jews during prayers in Pittsburgh and California in recent years, and gunmen took worshipers hostage in Texas earlier this year.

A mother hugs her son in front of a monument at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh on October 27, 2019. (AP/Gene J. Puskar/File)

The lawsuit cites these attacks, and others, including those against churches and mosques, as evidence that “places of worship have long been targeted for violent crimes.”

“It is emphasized that this is the case of a Jewish house of worship,” the lawsuit said. “The law, on the contrary, makes ‘sensitive places’ more sensitive places. These are places where murderers pretty much assume people are left unprotected.”

Religious Jews also do not carry mobile phones on the Sabbath and most holidays, making it more difficult to contact law enforcement in an emergency.

But arming the congregation with weapons is not the best approach to security, says Brad Orsini, senior national security adviser for the Secure Community Network, a safety and security organization for North American Jews. .

“Having the congregation carry weapons is something we don’t want to think about because we want to make sure we’re following all other best practices that have nothing to do with firearms,” ​​he said.

Orsini, a Marine Corps veteran, said synagogues should focus on keeping threats out of the building in the first place, with measures like surveillance surveillance, locked doors and screening at entrances, so that congregations can remain in crisis. and the FBI.

Real-life example: New York police officers stand guard at the door of Brooklyn’s Union Temple after it was vandalized in graffiti on November 2, 2018. (Kena Betancur/AFP via Getty Images)

“An armed presence is just one small part of an effective security program. to place,” he said.

The organization recommends using on-duty or off-duty law enforcement for a trained and visible armed presence outside the synagogue. If that is not available, use a private security company.

A guide to synagogue security released by the organization in 2020 emphasized that “armed guards should be part of a broader plan.”

The guide lists volunteer congregations as the last of the six recommended options for armed groups, citing issues such as lack of experience and training and legal liability. The group called armed rallyers “extremely dangerous”.

The report warned that “things could go wrong”, including the potential for “significant legal consequences” if the weapons were misused by armed believers.

Orsini said every congregation is different and should handle security in its own way, according to local laws. Steibel. Smaller congregations are vulnerable because they receive less government funding for security measures such as protective doors and security guards, and fewer members pay for these measures.New York’s UJA federation announces program to better protect 50 people Steibel in New York earlier this year.

Orsini said he understands security concerns Steibel A desire to have an armed presence, but that resource must be used for other security measures before arming the congregation.

Illustrative example: Police and community safety vehicles at a Jewish event in Brooklyn, New York City, May 19, 2022. (Luke Tress/Times of Israel)

One of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, Stephen Goldstein, said the Bnei Matishav congregation, made up of about 25 families, had been using firearms for years with licenses and approval from other congregations. rice field. Police told him he needed to stop bringing guns in after the new law went into effect.

The gun club connected with plaintiffs through a network of participants and supporters. Both plaintiffs have concealed pistol licenses.

The new law bans rifles and shotguns from places of worship, along with concealed weapons, which generally refers to small handguns.

The law also prohibits the use of all firearms at “any place of worship or religious observation.” The lawsuit says the wording is “unconstitutionally vague.”

The lawsuit states that for devout Jews, sites of religious observation can be almost anywhere. Plaintiffs organize afternoon prayers with their colleagues, making their workplace a place of worship.

This week many observant Jews gathered at lakes, ponds, streams, or other public bodies of water, Tashlich Waldman said the ceremonies held between Happy New Year and the Feast of Tabernacles are subject to the law as places of “religious observation.” Yom Kippur is an all-day religious observance and Sukkot is his week-long holiday celebrated outdoors.

Illustrative example: Jewish New Yorkers gather for a Taschlich ceremony in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn on September 24, 2020. (Luke Tress/Times of Israel)

“She wants you to pick one because having a gun is a Second Amendment right and religious observation is a First Amendment right,” Waldman said of the governor. “Either you have this or you have that, and this concerns a lot of people in the community.”

The Jewish Gun Club said Friday that a judge denied the plaintiffs’ request for an interim injunction to stay the law enforcement pending the lawsuit.

The lawsuit is the latest in a series of legal battles launched by religious Jews in New York over perceived restrictions on worship, including one related to a larger social conflict in the United States.

In a high-profile incident, the modern-orthodox University of Yeshiva seeks to block LGBTQ recognition on campus for religious reasons. Earlier this year, a lawsuit challenged New York City’s vaccine requirements, and in 2020, a major orthodox group took then-New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to federal court over pandemic restrictions on religious gatherings. I sued.

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