New Yorkers are turning to firearms to protect themselves from crime, even as the state has ramped up restrictions on carrying them for self-defense.
A new Siena College Research Institute (SCRI) poll released Wednesday found that 87 percent of New Yorkers say crime is a serious problem in the state today, and 61 percent are either very or somewhat concerned that they might be a victim of a crime. In response, roughly one in eight respondents said they purchased a firearm for self-defense in the past 12 months, including more than one in six respondents living in New York City.
“Crime isn’t just something that happens to others far away according to New Yorkers,” Don Levy, SCRI’s director, said in a press release. “New Yorkers across the entire state agree that crime is a serious problem, but New York City residents […] are two or more times more likely to have taken a self-defense class, joined a neighborhood watch, moved, or purchased a gun in order to protect themselves than are residents of other parts of the state.”
The poll highlights how many New York residents are undeterred by legal hurdles despite the state’s penchant for restricting legal access to guns. It’s also noteworthy that residents of New York City, which has additional onerous restrictions on gun purchasing and ownership above and beyond state law, were twice as likely as other residents of the state to report recently purchasing a firearm.
New York has cracked down on residents’ abilities to own and carry guns following the state’s historic loss at the Supreme Court last June. In New York State Rifle and Pistol Association v. Bruen, the justices ruled the state’s gun-carry permitting system unconstitutionally subjective, but legislators retaliated with a sweeping law designed to create financial and logistical obstacles to the process of applying for gun permits. They also criminalized gun carry for self-defense in a vast array of public places, which a federal appeals court is currently reviewing after it was found unconstitutional by multiple lower court judges.
While carrying a firearm in public for self-defense remains largely illegal as court battles play out, being in public is when New Yorkers say they feel most at risk. Siena’s poll found 51 percent of state residents report being concerned about their or their family’s safety in public places. Nearly 40 percent say they have witnessed violent or threatening behavior among others in public, and 36 percent say they have felt threatened over the past year in a public place by a stranger’s behavior.
Protection from crime has been the dominant reason people report for purchasing firearms in recent years. It is routinely cited in national polls as the top reason for gun ownership and is widely believed to be the driving force behind the record-setting streak of new gun sales that began shortly after the pandemic and continued through 2021 as homicides spiked.
The poll found that many New Yorkers are taking additional steps beyond purchasing firearms to keep themselves safe. About one in three reported buying security cameras or lights in the last year, while more than a quarter said they bought non-firearm defensive tools like pepper spray or a taser. Meanwhile, 16 percent of New Yorkers, including a quarter of New York City residents, reported taking a self-defense class.
The poll results reveal that public safety and violent crime continue to concern the state’s residents eight months after its voters nearly handed the governorship to a Republican for the first time in two decades. Governor Kathy Hochul (D.) defeated challenger Lee Zeldin (R.) by the thinnest margin in a gubernatorial race since 1994 in a state that has not elected a Republican to that office since 2002. Zeldin focused his campaign on crime, which the state’s voters rated as their number one issue heading into the election.
Levy called fears over crime and the grip it continues to have on New Yorkers “worrisome.”
“A majority of New Yorkers say that they are concerned about their or their family’s safety when thinking about being in public places, the places we all go, including schools, stores or religious institutions,” he said. “Crime and the threat of crime is on the minds of many of us as we simply go through our everyday lives. Most say that they are no more worried than ever but over 40% say it’s the worst it’s ever been.”
The Siena poll was conducted from June 4 to June 12. It included 382 New York adults surveyed over cellphones and landlines as well as 420 respondents drawn from an online panel. It has a margin of error of 3.7 percentage points.