Put into law in 1911, the Sullivan Act requires New York gun owners to present probable cause in order to acquire a permit to carry a concealed firearm outside of the home. This is an expansion of basic gun registration requisites, as a standard license only grants owners the right to possess a weapon on personal property.
Some Hopkins students expressed support for the Sullivan Act as written. Nate Meyers ’22, Co-Head of Young Democrats, stated, “I think the New York gun law is the legislation [that] states need to be passing in order to finally reduce gun violence in our country.” Math teacher Kathy Chavez said, “I am not opposed to people owning guns, but I have never been in a situation where an angry or intoxicated or crazy person with a gun makes things better.” She continued, “I also look at gun statistics in the rest of the world and the American gun obsession is causing many deadly incidents.” The statistics Chavez referenced include a study conducted by CNN, suggesting that “Americans own nearly half (46%) of the estimated 857 million civilian-owned guns worldwide,” which yields 120.5 guns for every 100 people. “Do gun laws benefit the country? The statistics show that guns equal death,” Chavez concluded.
However, the Sullivan Act imposes limitations on firearm access in underserved communities, according to Lily Panagos ’23, a leader of Students United for Racial Equity (S.U.R.E): “I feel like the need for ‘probable cause’ in order to obtain a firearm is theoretically a good idea, but the entire concept of strict gun control in a country like the US most likely cannot be achieved properly. The New York law doesn’t really specify where they draw the line and can lead to discrimination.”
Some members of the Hopkins community questioned the specific parameters of the Sullivan Act. Sean Kelly ’25 said, “I believe [the Sullivan Act] is far too strict....All that these gun laws do is render the law-abiding citizens defenseless in public, which, by the way, is where people need them most to defend [themselves].”
However, Sean Kelly continued, “I believe that background checks are definitely beneficial, and that gun owners should have further responsibilities– such as not being drunk while carrying (for obvious reasons)– but if someone passes a background check, they should be able to carry it wherever they want (although I have reservations about churches, schools, and government buildings) as long as they do not use the guns illegally.” Director of Dining Services Mike King shared his take: “New York firearms laws are among the strictest in the country, to the point where a person could be imprisoned for transporting a competition firearm, properly stored and disassembled; firearms laws are regulated by individual states, not by America.” King explained, “Having said that, nobody should be permitted to own, possess, or carry a firearm without having passed a certified firearms safety course (NRA or other nationally recognized firearms organization) and proved proficiency in safely handling, stories, carrying, and discharging a firearm.”
Kian Ahmadi ’24, who has been working with the Connecticut Against Gun Violence Campaign, proposed a possible solution to address these concerns: “organized and consistent” community-centric violence prevention programs. Ahmadi clarified, “I think investing in recreational programs for kids (including young children and pre-teens) can prevent street-level gun violence. A lot of the time we start thinking of what to do or how to get kids out of the system once they land in [juvenile detention], but this is finding positive recreational outlets for them to spend their time in.” Ahmadi summed up, “I don’t believe stricter gun laws are the answer to gun violence–I think it’s kind of naive to just assume more restrictions will solve violence and I think that assumption doesn’t acknowledge the roots of our problems.”
There are several details of the multipronged Sullivan Act that must be taken into account when examining the legislation’s validity, but the deciding factor in the law’s continuation is its constitutionality, as determined by the Supreme Court in the months ahead. Liam Kelly ’22, Co-Head of the Young Republicans, said, “While common-sense gun restrictions are necessary, New York’s gun law is too strict, and likely unconstitutional, as it practically eliminates the right to self-defense outside of the home.” Kelly continued, “It would be unconstitutional to demand ‘proper cause’ to express free speech, and thus the same can be said for the Second Amendment.” English teacher Rebecca Marcus said, “The Second-Amendment right to bear arms is often contextually and historically misinterpreted in terms of its intent; as I understand it, I do not believe [the Sullivan Act infringes upon a person’s rights]. I think the need to demonstrate cause for a deadly weapon is reasonable.” Marcus echoed others in the Hopkins community when she said, “It is my firm hope that people will look at global gun restrictions and make decisions in line with what results in the fewest deaths of others.”