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Upstate concealed carry cases set stage for major gun rights review

ALBANY — Gun rights activists are hoping a New York legal battle headed to the nation’s highest court will determine whether residents have the same right to concealed carry permits as people in 42 other states with less restrictive firearms laws.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo and other proponents of stringent gun control statutes are hoping New York’s statute giving discretion to the permit issuing authority in each county will be upheld.

The case is expected to produce the most significant ruling on Second Amendment rights since 2010.

It has its origins in upstate Rensselaer County, where two men, Robert Nash and Brandon Koch, along with the New York State Rifle & Pistol Association, mounted a legal challenge after a local judge determined the men did not sufficiently show why they needed handguns outside the home for self-defense.

The New York law says the licensing authority “may” issue concealed carry permits, resulting in a patchwork of county-to-county approaches in how the applications are evaluated. Those challenging the statute argue New York has effectively been stripping its residents of their constitutional right to firearms unless the applicants can prove there is an “especially good reason” for wanting guns.

“If they affirm the right of New York residents to have a concealed carry permit, what they are doing is reaffirming that the Second Amendment is not just a right that is guaranteed in your home but that it’s guaranteed anywhere,” Tom King, president of the state Rifle & Pistol Association, told CNHI. “And that will be important for the entire nation and the other states with laws similar to New York’s law.”

King’s group is affiliated with the National Rifle Association, the nation’s leading gun rights advocate. The organization is often at odds with Cuomo and other promoters of strict gun control laws, including state Attorney General Letitia James.

Responding to the Supreme Court’s decision to hear the New York gun case, Cuomo said: “The streets of New York are not the O.K. Corral, and the NRA’s dream of a society where everyone is terrified of each other and armed to the teeth is abhorrent to our values.”

James, meanwhile, signaled her office will argue the New York statute should be upheld.

Many upstate police executives say they support Second Amendment rights for law-abiding citizens who go through the background checks in order to get a handgun.

“Gun crimes are usually committed by people who have guns illegally, so we don’t have many concerns about legal guns,” said Patrick Phelan, director of the New York State Association of Chiefs of Police. “The gun permit process in New York should be to determine if a person is unfit to possess a gun, based on whether they have a criminal record or they have a serious mental health problem. We have no opposition to legal gun ownership. We don’t see that as a public safety problem.”

Niagara County Sheriff Michael Filicetti and Delaware County Sheriff Craig DuMond offered similar reasoning as to why they believe a person who is cleared for a regular pistol permit be allowed to have the weapon concealed when he or she heads outside.

“If they go through the entire vetting process and they meet all of the requirements, then I see no reason why they shouldn’t be granted a concealed carry permit,” Filicetti said.

Said DuMond: “If a judge feels the person is capable of having a pistol permit, why would they restrict them from a concealed carry?”

DuMond said he believes having legally armed civilians is an effective way to deter violent crimes in communities. “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” he said. He also noted his county now requires applicants for pistol permits to complete gun safety instruction.

The high court’s move to hear the case came shortly after several multiple shootings across the country.

Hannah Shearer, litigation director at the Giffords Law Center, a gun control advocacy group, said that “the outlook does not look very good for gun safety laws at the Supreme Court,” with its latest conservative addition joining the court after four justices “previously signaled hostility to gun safety laws.”

If the top court does side with the New York State Rifle & Pistol Association, the ruling would be “extreme” and “would be out of step with Second Amendment precedent, historical evidence, and the views of the overwhelming majority of Americans.”

Meanwhile, the federal lower courts, Shearer said, “have developed a consistent and effective approach to interpreting the constitutionality of gun safety laws that protects both rights and public safety.”

The Supreme Court will hear the case, billed as New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Corlett, in the term that begins in October.

King said he won’t make predictions on the outcome.

“If the case is decided on an intellectual basis and a constitutional basis, I think we will be successful because we have the right fact pattern and the right evidence pattern,” he said.

East Hartford High School senior Sudeen Pryce, right, receives support from classmate Alexia Phipps, left, school intervention coordinator Mark Brown, second from left, and EMT Katrinna Greene, top right, as RN Kaylee Cruz administers the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine to Pryce at a mass vaccination site on April 26 in East Hartford, Conn. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is expected to authorize Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine for young adults aged 12 and older by next week, setting up shots for many before the beginning of the next school year.

Official: FDA to OK vaccine for 12-year-olds

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is expected to authorize Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 12 and older by next week, according to a federal official and a person familiar with the process, setting up shots for many before the beginning of the next school year.

The announcement is set to come barely a month after the company found that its shot, which is already authorized for those ages 16 and older, also provided protection for the younger group.

The federal official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to preview the FDA’s action, said the agency was expected to expand its emergency use authorization for Pfizer’s two-dose vaccine by early next week, and perhaps even sooner. The person familiar with the process, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal matters, confirmed the timeline and added that it is expected that the FDA will approve Pfizer’s use by even younger children sometime this fall.

The FDA action will be followed by a meeting of a federal vaccine advisory committee to discuss whether to recommend the shot for 12- to 15-year-olds. Shots could begin after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention adopts the committee’s recommendation. Those steps could be completed in a matter of days.

The New York Times first reported on the expected timing for the authorization.

Meanwhile, air travel in the U.S. hit its highest mark since COVID-19 took hold more than 13 months ago, while European Union officials are proposing to ease restrictions on visitors to the continent as the vaccine sends new cases and deaths tumbling in more affluent countries.

The improving picture in many places contrasts with the worsening disaster in India.

In the U.S., the average number of new cases per day fell below 50,000 for the first time since October. And nearly 1.67 million people were screened at U.S. airport checkpoints on Sunday, according to the Transportation Security Administration, the highest number since mid-March of last year.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed legislation giving him sweeping powers to invalidate local emergency measures put in place during the outbreak. While the law doesn’t go into effect until July, the Republican governor said he will issue an executive order to more quickly get rid of local mask mandates.

“I think this creates a structure that’s going to be a little bit more respectful, I think, of people’s businesses, jobs, schools and personal freedom,” he said.

Las Vegas is bustling again after casino capacity limits were raised Saturday to 80% and person-to-person distancing was dropped to 3 feet. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that New York City’s subways will begin running all night again and capacity restrictions on most businesses will end statewide in mid-May.

And Los Angeles County reported no coronavirus deaths on Sunday and Monday, some of which may be attributable to a lag in reporting but was nevertheless a hopeful sign that could move the county to allow an increase in capacity at events and venues, and indoor-service at bars.

EU officials also announced a proposal Monday to relax restrictions on travel to the 27-nation bloc this summer, though the final decision is up to its member countries.

“Time to revive EU tourism industry and for cross-border friendships to rekindle — safely,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said. “We propose to welcome again vaccinated visitors and those from countries with a good health situation.”

In Greece, restaurants and cafes reopened their terraces on Monday after six months of shutdown, with customers flocking to soak up the sunshine. In France, high schools reopened and a ban on domestic travel was lifted.

The once hard-hit Czech Republic, where cases are now declining, announced it will allow people to remove face coverings at all outdoor spaces starting next Monday if they keep their distance from others.

But with more-contagious variants taking hold, efforts are underway to boost vaccination efforts, which have begun to lag. The average number of doses given per day fell 27% from a high of 3.26 million on April 11 to 2.37 million last Tuesday, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In Detroit, teams from the city’s health department have knocked on nearly 5,000 doors since the weekend to persuade people to get immunized. And Massachusetts’ governor announced plans to close four of seven mass vaccination sites by the end of June in favor of a more targeted approach.

“My plea to everyone: Get vaccinated now, please,” President Joe Biden said in Norfolk, Virginia. He stressed that he has worked hard to make sure there are more than 600 million doses of vaccine — enough for all Americans to get both doses.

“We’re going to increase that number across the board as well so we can also be helping other nations once we take care of all Americans,” the president said.

Brazil, once the epicenter of the pandemic, has been overtaken by a surge in India that has overrun crematoriums and made it clear the p andemic is far from over.

As the U.S. and other countries rushed in aid, India reported nearly 370,000 new cases and more than 3,400 deaths Monday — numbers that experts believe are vast undercounts because of a widespread lack of testing and incomplete reporting.

In Germany, Bavarian officials canceled Oktoberfest for a second year in a row because of the safety risks. The beer-drinking festivities typically attract about 6 million visitors from around the world.

And in Italy, medical experts and politicians expressed concern about a possible spike in infections after tens of thousands of jubilant soccer fans converged on Milan’s main square Sunday to celebrate Inter Milan’s league title.

Restaurant survival hopes pick up as $28.6B in grants begin

NEW YORK — Thousands of restaurants and bars decimated by the COVID-19 outbreak have a better chance at survival as the government begins handing out $28.6 billion in grants — money to help these small businesses stay afloat while they wait for customers to return.

Laurie Thomas is applying for grants for her two San Francisco restaurants that have closed and reopened several times as coronavirus cases surged and declined; she’s still at just 50% of capacity. Rose’s Cafe and Terzo are operating at a loss but grant money will help them stay open.

“This allows you to go back to February 2020 and apply these funds to help pay down debt, catch up on past due rent, etc.,” she says.

The Small Business Administration is accepting applications for grants from the Restaurant Revitalization Fund as of Monday. For the first three weeks only applications from restaurants that are majority-owned by women, veterans and “socially and economically disadvantaged” applicants will be processed and paid out, although any restaurant can apply. After that, grants will be funded in the order that they’ve been approved by the SBA.

The grants, up to a maximum of $10 million, are aimed at replacing lost revenue at restaurant companies with up to 20 locations. Businesses with more than one restaurant can get up to $5 million per location, but each applicant is limited to a total of $10 million in funds.

Grant money is in addition to Paycheck Protection Program loans that have helped Thomas and other restaurant owners pay their staffers.

“They have been a huge savior for us but it’s not enough to ensure we’re going to survive,” Thomas says of her two PPP loans.

The restaurant industry has been among the hardest hit by the pandemic. The National Restaurant Association estimates the industry has lost $270 billion since the start of the pandemic. More than 110,000 restaurants shut down long-term or permanently and 2.5 million jobs have been lost.

Restaurants will remain vulnerable as long as people are uneasy about contracting the virus, and as long as business and leisure travel remains depressed, says Sean Kennedy, an executive vice president at the restaurant association.

The grant program is “an incredible first step that is going to help tens of thousands of restaurants,” Kennedy says. If the $28.6 billion is quickly depleted, the industry group will ask Congress to approve more funds for grants, he says.

A grant would give Sara Bradley money toward operating costs and allow her to have her restaurant painted and landscaped — upkeep that went by the wayside as revenue plunged by half in the past year.

“It was more important to keep our employees paid than put a fresh coat of paint on the walls,” says Bradley, owner of Freight House in Paducah, Kentucky.

The money would help support the restaurant while Bradley waits for state officials to lift restrictions on capacity; currently restaurants can only have 60% of their usual number of customers and staffers. It would help defray costs that have risen sharply amid the pandemic — supplies as mundane as gloves for food preparation have doubled, even tripled in price. Freight House badly needs a new computer but Bradley has held off buying one, instead putting the money toward giving staffers raises.

The grants appeal to restaurant owners who didn’t get PPP money because they were concerned about possibly having to pay back loans, says David Lopez, president of the Greater Kansas City Restaurant Association.

“It took a lot of faith to jump in and do that when you already have your back pressed up against the wall,” says Lopez, who’s also the general manager of Manny’s Mexican Restaurant.

The family-owned business has fared relatively well through the pandemic, with revenue currently down 15% to 20%, compared to the more than 50% drop that many restaurants have suffered. Lopez attributes that in part to the loyalty the 41-year-old restaurant has fostered with its customers.

“The new restaurants, that maybe started before the pandemic occurred, are the places that are really being hurt. Margins are thin enough as it this, even without the pandemic,” he says.

Grant money would help the owners of Sac’s Place pay back rent to their landlord and outstanding bills to vendors. And, co-owner Domenico Sacramone says, restore menus so they offer the variety of dishes they had pre-pandemic.

“We were working on bare minimums. We’re going to fully restock the place,” says Sacramone, whose restaurant is located in New York City’s Astoria neighborhood.

The restaurant, which has been shut down twice amid the pandemic, has survived because of PPP loans that went toward payroll, rent concessions and its already strong takeout and delivery business. Without a grant, Sacramone isn’t sure how he would pay the restaurant’s creditors.

“We’re not looking for a lot, just to get us over the hump and help us be where we were before the pandemic started,” he says.

High school vaccine clinics beginning

Warren County has vaccinated 81 students at their high schools in a new effort to bring COVID vaccination clinics to convenient locations.

On Friday, the county vaccinated 45 Queensbury, Warrensburg and Johnsburg students, age 16 and older.

On Monday, the county vaccinated another 36 students at Hadley-Luzerne, Bolton, Glens Falls and North Warren high schools.

The two-shot Pfizer vaccine is the only one approved for age 16 and 17.

Students had to bring a signed permission slip to get vaccinated at school.

The county vaccination team will return to those schools in three weeks to give the students their second dose.

SUNY Adirondack students will get a clinic Tuesday on the college campus, using the Johnson & Johnson vaccine that was briefly pulled from use last month. It can cause rare but serious blood clots, but the chance of getting one is so rare that the Food and Drug Administration approved it for use with a warning.

The county will also run a pop-up clinic in Glens Falls with Pfizer or Moderna vaccine later this week. That clinic is designed to reach those who cannot easily travel to other vaccination sites.

The vaccination site Aviation Mall in Queensbury is also taking walk-ins every day, from 8 am. to 6 p.m. Appointments are available at the Am I Eligible state website.

State reopening more

Starting May 19, the state is dropping most capacity limits for businesses. Instead, they will be able to bring in as many customers as they can fit while keeping them 6 feet apart.

“That includes retail stores, food services, gyms, fitness centers, amusement and family entertainment, hair salons, barbershops, offices, etc. No capacity restrictions on all of those activities,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said at a press conference Monday. “So, museums, theaters, Broadway, retail, shops, now they may make their own economic decision as to when they need to reopen, because they can have critical mass.”

As a practical matter, most restaurants, hair stylists and similar businesses have already reached the physical limits of their buildings by moving tables and chairs to be 6 feet apart. But any business that has more space will be allowed to accept more customers. Larger businesses, such as Great Escape, would likely be able to add many more customers.

There will still be capacity limits on large indoor and outdoor venues and certain events.

Indoor catered events will be allowed up to 250 people, or 500 if they require COVID tests.

Outdoor large stadiums will be allowed to go to 33% of capacity while large indoor venues will be allowed to go to 30%. Customers will still be required to show proof of vaccination or a recent negative COVID test.

There will no longer be a limit on outdoor residential gatherings, and up to 50 people will be allowed at indoor residential gatherings.

“Today is a milestone for New York state and a significant transition,” Cuomo said, citing a 50% decline in the positivity rate and 38% decline in hospitalizations in the last month.

“We still have more to do on the vaccinations,” he said. “You’re starting to deal with a population that is less eager to get it.”

So far, 9.3 million New Yorkers have gotten at least one dose of the vaccine and 7 million New Yorkers are fully vaccinated. The FDA is signaling that it may soon allow Pfizer to be used to vaccinate children age 12 and up. That decision might be announced next week.

In the meantime, Cuomo said, vaccination efforts are focusing on “the youthful and the doubtful.” He estimated that 20% of New Yorkers are “doubtful” about getting the vaccine.

“We still have more to do on the vaccinations,” he said, adding that people cannot relax yet. “Hallelujah, spring is here? Yeah, well, 37 people died (Sunday). It’s not over.”

School cases

Hudson Falls Central School District reported two cases, a “presumed positive” case at the primary school and a member of the intermediate school community who tested positive midday Monday. Students who were close contacts were transported home after their parents were reached by phone. The schools are remaining open.

Monday’s cases

  • Warren County reported six new cases, for a total of 3,352 confirmed cases since the pandemic began, and 11 recoveries, for a total of 3,230 recoveries among confirmed cases. One person is hospitalized, two less than Sunday, due to two discharges. The patient is in critical condition. Two residents, who were not hospitalized, were in moderate condition. There are 54 people currently ill.
  • Washington County reported 15 new cases since Saturday, for a total of 2,658 confirmed cases since the pandemic began, and nine recoveries, for a total of 2,560 recoveries. There are 60 people currently ill and four are hospitalized, an increase of two since Saturday.
  • Saratoga County reported 73 new cases since Friday, for a total of 14,833 confirmed cases. The county reported 83 recoveries, for a total of 14,496 recoveries. There are 173 people currently ill and 13 are hospitalized, one less than Friday.
  • In the northern Saratoga County towns, new cases: four Corinth residents (for a total of nine) and two Hadley residents (for a total of three).
  • Still ill: five town of Corinth residents, two village of Corinth residents, one Hadley resident, 11 Moreau residents, four Northumberland residents, three town of Saratoga residents, one Schuylerville resident, four South Glens Falls residents and 15 Wilton residents.
  • Recoveries: one village of Corinth resident, four Moreau residents, four Northumberland residents, two town of Saratoga residents, three South Glens Falls residents and five Wilton residents.
  • Essex County reported a total of seven cases since Friday. It also reported a cluster at the college-prep boarding school Northwood School in Lake Placid, where last week 22 people tested positive and 49 people are in quarantine due to exposure. Of those cases, 15 ill people are currently in Essex County and the rest are isolating at locations out of the county.
  • Saratoga Hospital reported 11 coronavirus patients, up from 10 Friday.
  • Glens Falls Hospital reported five coronavirus patients, down from 12 Friday. One patient is in intensive care and two are no longer contagious, but not well enough to be discharged.

For Sunday, the most recent data that is available:

  • The Capital Region reported 71 new cases, a positive test rate of 1.2%, which decreased the weekly average to 1.4%.
  • Warren County had a positive test rate of 0.3%, which decreased the weekly average to 1%.
  • Washington County had a positive test rate of 0.8%, which kept the weekly average at 1.8%.
  • Saratoga County had a positive test rate of 2.5%, which increased the weekly average to 1.5%.
  • Essex County had a positive test rate of 2.8%, which increased the weekly average to 1.9%.
  • Statewide, 2,200 people tested positive for the virus on Sunday, a positive test rate of 1.94%. A total of 2,539 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 and 37 people died.