Sullivan Act

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The Sullivan Act was a gun control law in New York state that took effect in 1911.[1][2] The NY state law requires licenses for New Yorkers to possess firearms small enough to be concealed. Private possession of such firearms without a license was a misdemeanor, and carrying them in public is a felony. The law was the subject of controversy regarding both its selective enforcement[3] and the licensing bribery schemes it enabled.[4] The act was named for its primary legislative sponsor, state senator Timothy Sullivan, a Tammany Hall Democrat.

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. According to a 2022 study, the law had no impact on overall homicide rates, reduced overall suicide rates, and caused large and sustained decrease in gun-related suicide rates.[5]

The case New York State Rifle & Pistol Association, Inc. v. Bruen was decided in the U.S. Supreme Court, evaluating the constitutionality of this law on Second Amendment grounds. Arguments were held in November of 2021, with the majority of the court striking down the "proper cause" requirement of the current law on June 23, 2022, for violating both the Second and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution.[6]


Sullivan introduced the state-wide legislation "partly in response to a marked increase in highly publicized violent street crime below Fourteenth Street."[7] Sullivan and other prominent New Yorkers were under public pressure to act, in the form of letters and recommendations from George Petit le Brun, who worked in the city's coroner's office, after a "brazen early afternoon" murder-suicide near Gramercy Park. The law went into effect on August 31, 1911.[8]

The law also made it a felony to own or sell other items defined as so called "dangerous weapons", including "blackjacks, bludgeons, sandbags, sandclubs, billies, slungshots and metal knuckles."[9]

According to Richard F. Welch, who wrote a 2009 biography of Sullivan, "all the available evidence indicates that Tim's fight to bring firearms under control sprang from heartfelt conviction."[10] At the time, "some complained that the law would only succeed in disarming lawful citizens, while others suspected that Sullivan was just trying to rein in the thugs on his own payroll."[11] Lawman Bat Masterson, a friend of Sullivan's, criticized the law as "obnoxious" and said that he questioned Sullivan's mental state of mind over the law.

New York City license holders[edit]

In New York State, apart from New York City, the practices for the issuance of concealed carry licenses vary from county to county.

In New York City, the licensing authority is the police department, which rarely issues carry licenses to anyone except retired police officers, or those who can describe why the nature of their employment (for example, a diamond merchant who regularly carries gemstones, or a district attorney who regularly prosecutes dangerous criminals) requires carrying a concealed handgun. Critics of the law have alleged that New Yorkers with political influence, wealth, or celebrity appear to be issued licenses more liberally.[12] The New York Post, the New York Sun, and other newspapers have periodically obtained the list of licensees through Freedom of Information Act requests and have published the names of individuals they consider to be wealthy, famous, or politically connected that have been issued carry licenses by the city police department.[13][14]

Several NYPD license division officers and others were convicted in federal court for participating in a bribery scheme where they accepted bribes for at least 2012 through 2016 in exchange for hundreds of permits in instances where permits would not be approved. These officers conspired with "expediting" businesses and some created these businesses after retiring from the police force. [15] [16]


In the case Kachalsky v. Cacace (2012), a unanimous panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit upheld the constitutionality of the Sullivan Act, and rejected challengers' positions that New York state handgun law violates the Second and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution.[17][18][19]

On April 26, 2021, the Supreme Court of the United States granted certiorari in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association, Inc. v. Bruen, seeking to examine whether the Sullivan Act and the may-issue policies, in general, violate the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution.[20] On June 23, 2022, the "proper cause" requirement of the Sullivan Act was struck down by the Supreme Court of the United States, leaving the general licensing requirement in place.


The first person convicted under the law was an Italian immigrant named Marino Rossi who was traveling to a job interview and carrying a revolver for fear of the Black Hand.[21] At sentencing the judge declared: "It is unfortunate that this is the custom with you and your kind, and that fact, combined with your irascible nature, furnishes much of the criminal business in this country."[22] Prior to Marino's arrest, others had been arrested under the new law but were released without charges.[3] Whether this was part of the law's intent, it was passed on a wave of anti-immigrant and anti-Italian rhetoric as a measure to disarm an alleged Italian and immigrant criminal element.[23] The police department who granted the licenses could easily discriminate against "undesirable" elements.[23] Days before the law took effect The New York Times published an article saying "Low-browed foreigners bargained for weapons of every description and gloated over their good fortune in hearing of the drop in the gun market before it was too late".[24] After Rossi's conviction The New York Times called this "warning to the Italian community" both "timely and exemplary".[25]

According to New York City historian George Lankevich, the Act was passed so that Sullivan could have friends in the police force plant handguns on his rivals and take them to jail.[26]


In his concurring opinion in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association, Inc. v. Bruen, Justice Samuel Alito wrote

All that we decide in this case is that the Second Amendment protects the right of law-abiding people to carry a gun outside the home for self-defense and that the Sullivan Law, which makes that virtually impossible for most New Yorkers, is unconstitutional.[27]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "An Act to amend the penal law, in relation to the sale and carrying of dangerous weapons". Laws of New York. Laws of the State of New York Passed at the Sessions of the Legislature. Vol. 134th sess.: I. 1911. pp. 442–445. hdl:2027/uc1.b4375314. ISSN 0892-287X. Chapter 195, enacted May 25, 1911, effective September 1, 1911.
  2. ^ "New York Banned Handguns 100 Years Ago". History News Network (Washington University). Retrieved 2020-11-05.
  3. ^ a b Wrightington, Sydney Russell; Fuller, Horace Williams; Spencer, Arthur Weightman; Baldwin, Thomas Tileston, eds. (1911). "The Legal World: The Sullivan Pistol Law". The Green Bag. Boston Book Company. 23: 608.
  4. ^ United States Department of Justice "Former New York City Police Department Official Sentenced To 18 Months For Conspiring To Bribe Fellow Officers In Connection With Gun License Bribery Scheme". January 31, 2019
  5. ^ Depew, Briggs; Swensen, Isaac (2022). "The Effect of Concealed-Carry and Handgun Restrictions on Gun-Related Deaths: Evidence from the Sullivan Act of 1911". The Economic Journal. 132 (646): 2118–2140. doi:10.1093/ej/ueac004. ISSN 0013-0133.
  6. ^ Thomas, Clarence (June 23, 2022). "New York State Rifle & Pistol Association, Inc., Et Al. v. Bruen, Superintendent of New York State Police, Et Al" (PDF). The Supreme Court of the United States. Retrieved June 30, 2022.
  7. ^ Czitrom, Dan. Underworld and Underdogs: Big Tim Sullivan and Metropolitan Politics in New York, 1889-1913. Journal of American History. 78.2. (1992)
  8. ^ Duffy, Peter (2011-01-23). "100 Years Ago, the Shot That Spurred New York's Gun-Control Law". City Room. Retrieved 2019-03-12.
  9. ^ DeArment, Robert K. (2013). Gunfighter in Gotham: Bat Masterson's New York City Years. University of Oklahoma Press. p. 90. ISBN 978-0-8061-8909-3.
  10. ^ Duffy, Peter. "100 Years Ago, the Shot That Spurred New York's Gun-Control Law", New York Times (January 23, 2011)
  11. ^ Helferich, Gerard (2013-10-08). Theodore Roosevelt and the Assassin: Madness, Vengeance, and the Campaign of 1912. Rowman & Littlefield. ISBN 9781493000777.
  12. ^ Snyder, Jeffrey R. "Fighting Back: Crime, Self-Defense, and the Right to Carry a Handgun" at
  13. ^ Faherty, Christopher. "Concealed Pistols Permits Drop in City" New York Sun (August 29, 2007)
  14. ^ Kates, Don B., Jr. "The battle over gun control" The Public Interest, No. 84, Summer 1986, p.42-52
  15. ^ United States Department of Justice "Former New York City Police Department Official Sentenced To 18 Months For Conspiring To Bribe Fellow Officers In Connection With Gun License Bribery Scheme". January 31, 2019
  16. ^ Whitehouse, Kaja "Ex-cop: NYPD gun license division was a bribery machine". New York Post. April 17, 2018
  17. ^ Kachalsky v. Cacace, 701 F.3d 81 (2d Cir. 2012).
  18. ^ Michael Waldman, The Second Amendment: A Biography (Simon & Schuster, 2014), p. 147.
  19. ^ Celeste Katz, Court of Appeals Panel Upholds Constitutionality of NY Restrictions on Concealed Weapon Permits, New York Daily News (November 27, 2012).
  20. ^ "Supreme Court to Hear Gun Control Case - The New York Times".
  21. ^ "FIRST CONVICTION UNDER WEAPON LAW; Judge Foster Gives Marino Rossi One Year for Arming Himself Against Black Handers". New York Times. 28 September 1911.
  22. ^ Roberts, Sam (March 2, 1992). "METRO MATTERS; 50 Years of Crime, and Stereotypes". New York Times.
  23. ^ a b Ph.D., Gregg Lee Carter (2012). Guns in American Society: An Encyclopedia of History, Politics, Culture, and the Law [3 volumes]. ABC-CLIO. p. 1030. ISBN 978-0-313-38671-8.
  24. ^ "BARGAINS IN GUNS AT THE PAWNSHOPS; Rush in the Bowery and Other Quarters to Sell Off Revolvers Before Friday". New York Times. August 30, 1911.
  25. ^ "The Rossi Pistol Case". New York Times. September 29, 1911. Judge FOSTER did well in sentencing to one year in Sing Sing MARINO ROSSI, who carried a revolver because, as he said, it was the custom of himself and his hot-headed countrymen to have weapons concealed upon their persons. The Judge's warning to the Italian community was timely and exemplary.
  26. ^ Lankevich, George J. (2002). "Governing the World's Greatest City". New York City: A Short History. NYU Press. p. 140. ISBN 978-0-8147-5186-2.
  27. ^ New York State Rifle & Pistol Association Inc. v. Bruen, US 597 (2022) U.S. 20-843, Alito, concurring, p.6 (U.S. 2022-06-23).