Times Square’s newest LED signs aren’t trying to sell anything. Last week, Gov. Kathy Hochul and Mayor Eric Adams announced New York City’s most popular tourist spot would be a “gun-free zone” to counter June’s New York State Rifle and Pistol Association v. Bruen decision. 

“In response to the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down New York’s century-old concealed carry law, we took swift and thoughtful action to keep New Yorkers safe,” said Gov. Hochul. “I refuse to surrender my right as governor to protect New Yorkers from gun violence or any other form of harm. In New York State, we will continue leading the way forward and implementing common sense gun safety legislation.”

“Times Square, gun-free zone,” said Adams. “You cannot tell me this is not a feeling of being surreal in our city. We’re posting these signs, gun-free zones. And other messaging options, including mobile electronic signs at entry points to Times Square.”

Earlier this year on June 23, the U.S. Supreme Court nixxed New York’s handgun-licensing law in the NRA NYS chapter v. Bruen case. The courts ruled that the state’s “proper cause” requirement violated the Second Amendment. 

This came after yet another rash of mass shootings, one in upstate New York in Buffalo on May 14 that targeted a Black community grocery store and the other at an elementary school in Uvalde on May 24. The shootings sparked more debate and demand for political action on gun control. The Bruen ruling also nearly coincided with the massively unpopular Supreme Court decision not to codify legal abortion rights by overturning Roe v. Wade in June.

In a heated response to the Supreme Court, the city and state passed new gun laws designed to increase public safety and legal gun ownership. The state’s new law, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, requires people carrying licensed and concealed weapons to be eligible, complete a 16 hour firearms training course, and have two hours of fire practice. The Associated Press reported that gun carriers will have to provide a list of social media accounts as part of the background check to weed out domestic terrorist or potential mass shooters.

In addition to Times Square, these gun free zones will be on public transit, entertainment venues, bars and restaurants, polling sites, houses of worship, schools and colleges, daycares and summer camps, playgrounds, parks, zoos, libraries, government buildings, courthouses, hospitals, and emergency or homeless shelters.  

Official gun free zone signs will be posted at other “sensitive locations” in the near future, said the mayor’s office.

“While the Supreme Court works to make it harder to keep guns under control, Mayor Adams, Governor Hochul and the state legislature are taking steps to protect New Yorkers in sensitive areas of our city,” said Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine in a statement. “The simple fact is the fewer guns on our street the safer everybody will be, and we must continue to work to better control all guns in this country. But I’m proud of the work the mayor and state legislature have done to restrict conceal carry weapons, and to educate New Yorkers about a law that will undoubtedly help keep people safe.”

Only two shootings were reported by the Midtown South Precinct this year, with both occurring several blocks south of Times Squares’ traditionally established parameters, according to the NYPD’s CompStat database. So with higher rates of gun violence around town, why focus on Times Square? 

“This legislation is focused on legal guns—there’s already huge efforts to prevent and mitigate illegal guns in the city,” said John Jay College of Criminal Justice Prof. Keith Taylor. “The complication, from the city’s perspective, is that more guns in highly populated areas, lends itself to more opportunity for accidental gun casualties to take place while a civilian is legally using their weapon to defend themselves.”

“A gun fight in Times Square when that takes place, you have innocents that can get hit all around and that’s the last thing you want. If somebody gets shot in Times Square, even if it’s an individual who is lawfully defending themselves against crime taking place, that’s international news.”

Last year, bystanders were caught in the crossfire due to a pair of Times Square shootings. In March 2021, three people including a 4-year-old girl were hit by stray bullets. Three months later, a 21-year-old Marine was inadvertently shot during an argument between street vendors. 

According to Times Square’s official website, upwards to 450,000 people visit on the busiest days. Adams says he was losing sleep over the possibility that some were bringing in guns, legal or not, to the tourist hub.

“I never thought from the days of watching cowboy movies as a child, leave your gun at the door would become a reality in the state of New York,” he said. “And it was a challenging time when we saw the Bruen decision handed down. I remember speaking with the governor and she immediately moved into action and stated that we were not going to wait until this terrible, terrible Supreme Court decision created a state of havoc in our city.”

Ariama C. Long and Tandy Lau are Report for America corps members and write for New York City’s The Amsterdam News. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep them writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by visiting: https://tinyurl.com/fcszwj8w

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