AP Photo/Mary Altaffer

Prosecutors Drop Charges Against NYC Council Member Over Carrying in ‘Gun-Free Zone’

When New York City council member Inna Vernikov was arraigned in a Brooklyn courtroom earlier this month on charges that she illegally carried a concealed handgun in a “sensitive place” (specifically, a pro-Palestinian demonstration at Brooklyn College), I couldn’t help but notice and highlight an unusual comment made by her attorney when he was speaking to reporters.

Arthur Aidala distinctly noted that prosecutors were going to have to prove the gun that police removed from his client’s home after her arrest was, in fact, a firearm as defined by New York law.

“I’m assuming in January they’ll have a ballistics report telling us whether it’s worked and then they’ll have a witness who actually saw her with a gun,” he said. As I noted at the time:

It’s curious, to say the least, that Aidala is suggesting that the pistol might not have been in working condition when she was allegedly spotted with the gun tucked into the front of her pants. Was Vernikov engaging in a little bit of trolling by carrying a non-working firearm to the protest? Aidala didn’t provide any more details, which is smart from a defense attorney’s perspective. Make the prosecutors do the work. It’s up to them to prove his client’s guilt, not the other way around.

As it turns out, prosecutors won’t be doing much work on the case at all going forward. A representative of the Brooklyn District Attorney’s office says the felony charge against Vernikov will soon disappear after police determined that the gun in question was, in fact, inoperable when they removed it from her home.

NYPD officers monitoring the rally did not arrest Vernikov or seize the weapon at the time. Instead, police took possession of the gun when she voluntarily turned herself in and handed over the weapon the following morning. When the NYPD inspected the firearm a few weeks later, they found it was missing a key part — the recoil spring assembly — making the gun inoperable, according to a law enforcement source.

As a result, the prosecutors had to drop the charge, a spokesperson for the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office said. It was the first time the charge had ever been brought forth under the new state law in Kings County.

“Peaceful protest is the right of every American, but bringing a gun to a protest is illegal and creates an unacceptable risk of harm that has no place in our city,” said Oren Yaniv, a spokesperson for Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez. “In order to sustain this charge, it must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt that the weapon in question was capable of firing bullets. Absent such proof, we have no choice but to dismiss these charges.”

Was the pistol inoperable when Vernikov allegedly had it on her person as she counter-protested the pro-Palestinian rally at Brooklyn College? She’s probably the only one who knows for sure, but absent any evidence to the contrary prosecutors simply don’t have a case against her.

I confess I was really hoping for a Second Amendment challenge to New York’s ban on concealed carry near protests and on the grounds of college and university campuses, but this is obviously a better outcome for Vernikov than going to trial. Congrats to the councilwoman for beating the rap, and hopefully now that the felony charge against her is dismissed the calls for the city council to remove her from office will subside. Just like the prosecutors, those trying to boot her from her seat don’t have a legal leg to stand on.

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