By Jacob Henry
(New York Jewish Week) — A group of Jewish gun owners filed a lawsuit last Friday against New York Gov. Kathy Hochul’s gun laws, saying they infringe on their religious freedom as well as their right to bear arms.
The New York State Jewish Gun Club, a Rockland County-based firearms club, funded and put together the lawsuit, which was filed on Sept. 29 in the Southern District of New York. It specifically targets the section of the new gun laws that prohibits the carrying of concealed weapons in “sensitive locations,” including houses of worship.
“New York State has expressed that legal carry in New York is okay, but not for those who observe religious rituals and customs,” a NYS-JGC press release said. “This law specifically targets religious people, by threatening them with arrest and felony prosecution if they carry their firearm while engaging in religious observance.”
In July, Hochul signed the Concealed Carry Improvement Act into law in response to the June Supreme Court decision that struck down New York’s strict concealed carry laws. The CCIA law added multiple checks on gun ownership in New York State, including strengthening eligibility requirements and prohibiting concealed carry permit holders from bringing their firearms into bars, libraries, schools, government buildings, hospitals and houses of worship.
Tzvi Waldman, who is Orthodox and the founder of the gun club, told the New York Jewish Week that he is hoping for “immediate relief” with the lawsuit.
“I feel pretty confident in this case,” Waldman said. “People are concerned. This is a constitutional right and it’s extremely real to us.”
Steven Goldstein, president of the Orthodox Congregation Bnei Matisyahu in Brooklyn and Meir Ornstein, a Rockland County resident, are listed as the plaintiffs in the lawsuit.
New York Attorney General Letitia James and New York City Police Department Commissioner Keechant Sewell are listed as defendants alongside Hochul.
The lawsuit opens with a quote from Kings II in the Hebrew Bible.
“And the priest gave the officers of the hundreds, the spears and the shields that had belonged to King David, which were in the house of the Lord,” the passage reads. “And the couriers stood, each one with his weapons in his hand, from the right end of the house to the left end of the house, before the altar and the house, surrounding the king.”
The lawsuit also lists multiple instances of violence against Jews, including the 2019 stabbing in Rockland County’s Orthodox neighborhood of Monsey, which led to a rise in gun ownership within the area. It also references an Anti-Defamation League report showing that New York led the nation in total reported antisemitic incidents in 2021.
Waldman said a judge denied the group’s request for a temporary restraining order to stop enforcement of the law, but scheduled a hearing for Oct. 28.
The governor’s office did not respond to a request for comment. “New York is leading the way in the fight to reduce gun violence and save lives,” Lt. Gov. Antonio Delgado said when Hochul announced the new concealed carry law. “We want to ensure that all members of our communities are safe, and these new conceal and carry laws will help prevent tragedies by ensuring that gun owners are properly trained, that safety measures are promoted and that firearms are not carried into sensitive locations.”
The Supreme Court has not yet weighed in on whether state laws barring guns in sensitive locations, including houses of worship, are constitutional. “That’s going to be an important and interesting battlefield going forward for Second Amendment cases,” Joseph Blocher, a professor at Duke Law School, told CBS News.
A Siena College poll in June found that New Yorkers support the new gun laws by an overwhelming margin. A national survey of Jewish voters released last month found that 77 percent believed gun laws in the United States are not restrictive enough.