Sullivan Act

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Sullivan Act (New York)
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The Sullivan Act, also known as the Sullivan Law, is a controversial gun control law in New York State. Upon first passage, the Sullivan Act required licenses for New Yorkers to possess firearms small enough to be concealed. Possession of such firearms without a license was a misdemeanor, carrying them was a felony. The possession or carrying of weapons such as brass knuckles, sandbags, blackjacks, bludgeons or bombs was a felony, as was possessing or carrying a dagger, "dangerous knife" or razor "with intent to use the same unlawfully". Named for its primary legislative sponsor, state senator Timothy Sullivan, a notoriously corrupt Tammany Hall politician, it dates to 1911, and is still in force, making it one of the older existing gun control laws in the United States.


[edit] A "may issue" act

For handguns, the Sullivan Act qualifies as a may issue act, meaning the local police have discretion to issue a concealed carry license, as opposed to a shall issue act, in which state authorities must give a concealed handgun license to any person who satisfies specific criteria, often a background check and a safety class.

[edit] Notable New York City License Holders

Outside of New York City, the practices for the issuance of concealed carry licenses vary from county to county within New York State. In New York City, the licensing authority is the police department, which rarely issues carry licenses to anyone except retired police officers. In addition, New Yorkers who have political influence, wealth, or celebrity appear to be issued licenses more liberally. [1] The New York Post, the New York Sun, and other newspapers have obtained the list of licensees through Freedom of Information Law requests and have published several articles showing that the wealthy, famous, and politically connected have been issued carry licenses by the city police department. [2], [3], [4]

Current and past New York City license holders include:

  • Senator Charles Schumer
  • Don Imus
  • Harvey Keitel
  • Joseph Bruno
  • Ronald Lauder
  • Edgar Bronfman, Sr.
  • Howard Stern
  • Donald Trump
  • William F. Buckley Jr.
  • Joan Rivers
  • Arthur Hays Sulzberger
  • Robert DeNiro

[edit] Controversy

Some question the constitutionality of the act, due to the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. While the Supreme Court has never ruled that the Second Amendment applies to state law (See: Incorporation), the question of whether the Second Amendment provides grounds to invalidate local gun control laws may be addressed given the recent decision by the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in Parker v. District of Columbia, which is currently on appeal to the Supreme Court.

Many believe the act was to discriminate against immigrants in New York, particularly Italians, as the first person arrested under the law was mobster Giuseppe Costabile [1]. Whether this was part of the law's intent, it was passed on a wave of anti-immigrant rhetoric as a measure to disarm an alleged criminal element. The police granted the licenses, and could easily discriminate against "undesirable" elements. Sponsor "Big Tim" Sullivan reputedly desired the law so that his criminal cohorts could go about their activities unimpeded by citizens defending themselves with concealed handguns.[5]

Statistics showed that gun murders in New York had risen 50 percent from 1910-1911; indeed, in 1910, mayor William Jay Gaynor was shot and seriously wounded (he later died from the wound), and there were public calls for regulation of handguns.

[edit] See also

[edit] References

  1. "Fighting Back: Crime, Self-Defense, and the Right to Carry a Handgun," by Jeffrey R. Snyder at
  2. E! News - De Niro Packing Heat
  3. Concealed Pistols Permits Drop in City - August 29, 2007 - The New York Sun
  4. "Elite in NYC are Packing Heat," Boston Globe, January 8, 1993, p. 3; William Bastone, "Born to Gun; 65 Big Shots with Licenses to Carry," Village Voice, September 29, 1987. Summarized in Cramer and Kopel, p. 684. See also Don B. Kates, "The Battle over Gun Control," Public Interest 84 (1986): 45.
  5. "Court Shows Courage on Guns," by Mike Hudson at
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