A federal judge said last Thursday that he would block New York State from enforcing parts of a recently enacted state law that would prohibit carrying concealed weapons in places of worship.
The Concealed Carry Improvement Act, signed into law in July by Gov. Kathy Hochul, has been hotly contested, with a Jewish organization leading the fight.
As the Jewish High Holidays began last month, The New York State Jewish Gun Club (NYS-JGC) based in Rockland County brought a lawsuit in the Southern District of New York against the law which prohibits carrying concealed weapons in “sensitive locations,” including houses of worship. Enforcement of the new law would mean that even if someone has a license to carry a gun, if they are caught in a sensitive place such as a house of worship, they can still be prosecuted for a gun violation.
The gun club claims the law infringes on their religious freedom as well as their right to bear arms.
“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.”
The lawsuit began with a Biblical verse:
The Kohen gave the chiefs of hundreds King David‘s spears and quivers that were kept in the House of Hashem. The guards, each with his weapons at the ready, stationed themselves—from the south end of the House to the north end of the House, at the mizbayach and the House—to guard the king on every side. II Kings 11:10-11
Hochul signed the new state-wide gun regulations in July after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the state’s strict concealed carry laws.
The Jewish group also filed an application for an emergency injunction to stop New York State from enforcing the aspect of the CCIA that designates places of worship as “sensitive places,” where possessing a licensed firearm is prohibited and punishable with severe criminal penalties.
The plaintiffs cited an Anti-Defamation League (ADL) report. According to the report, New York led the nation in total reported antisemitic incidents in 2021. The lawsuit also referred to a spike in applications for firearms in the tri-state area in 2019 after a wave of violent attacks targeted Jews. The attacks included a deadly shooting at a kosher grocery store in Jersey City and an attack by a machete-wielding assailant targeting a Hanukkah party in Monsey, New York
There have been several armed attacks targeting synagogues in the past five years. In 2018, a gunman killed 11 people in the Tree of Life Synagogue outside of Pittsburgh and in 2019, one person died in a shooting attack in the Chabad synagogue in Poway, California. In January, a gunman held four people hostage in a synagogue in Colleyville, Texas.
A report in the New York Times last Monday stated that at least a half-dozen sheriffs in upstate New York said that they have no intention of enforcing the state’s gun regulations.
Despite the Biblical basis for the lawsuit, a survey carried out last month by the Jewish Electoral Institute reported that 77% of Jewish respondents believed that gun laws in the United States were not restrictive enough.
Bearing arms for personal protection has many strong Biblical precedents. Abraham was proficient at war, emerging victorious in a battle against four kings. The Jews left Egypt with weapons and used them effectively many times before arriving in Israel–where God required they conquer the land. David established his reputation by using a sling against Goliath. But the need for citizens, most especially Jews, to bear weapons against a capricious government was illustrated in Shushan when the Jews chose not to wait for divine intervention and rose up in arms against their enemies.
In an interview about New York’s new gun law, Rabbi Aron Lankry, the head of Yeshiva Yoreh Deah in Monsey, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA) that carrying a gun is based in Jewish law. He cited a verse in the Torah:
If the thief is seized while tunneling, and he is beaten to death, there is no bloodguilt in his case. Exodus 22:1
Rabbi Lankry explained that the rabbis expanded this when applying it to practical situations.
“If someone is coming to oppress you, you should initiate an oppressive force,” Rabbi Lankry told JTA. “In Israel, people are carrying guns on the Sabbath. This is an unfortunate necessity for the Jewish people.”
Halacha (Torah law) requires a Jew to carry, or be prepared to carry, weapons, as stated in the Biblical precept:
And you shall very much safeguard your souls Deuteronomy 4:15
The Talmud (Berachot 58a) requires every person to protect himself and, in another section (Sanhedrin 57a) the sages applied this principle also to situations where someone other than yourself is in danger.