N.Y.C. Council Member Who Toted Gun at Rally Will Not Face Charges

A Brooklyn councilwoman who was arrested last month after carrying a pistol to a pro-Palestinian rally at Brooklyn College has had charges dismissed against her after it was found that the weapon was unloaded and inoperable.

The affair began on Oct. 12, five days after the Hamas terrorist attack on Israel. The councilwoman, Inna Vernikov, a conservative Republican, attended the demonstration as a counterprotester and live-streamed her criticism.

She suggested that those at the rally were supporters of Hamas who were “nothing short of terrorists without the bombs” and images soon circulated on social media showing Ms. Vernikov carrying a gun whose butt jutted from her waistband.

While Ms. Vernikov had a permit for the weapon — a Smith & Wesson 9-millimeter pistol — she soon turned herself and the gun in and was charged with criminal possession of a firearm, police officials said at the time.

In New York State, openly carrying a firearm is not allowed, and a law passed last year expressly forbids carrying weapons in so called sensitive locations, a lengthy list that includes “gatherings of people to collectively express their constitutional rights to assemble or protest.”

In a statement on Friday, prosecutors seemed to want to balance First Amendment rights with goals of gun control.

“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 Orin Yaniv, spokesman for the Brooklyn district attorney, Eric Gonzalez. He added that the gun was unloaded and missing a piece, making it unusable.

“In order to sustain this charge, it must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt that the weapon in question was capable of firing bullets,” he said. “Absent such proof, we have no choice but to dismiss these charges.”

Ms. Vernikov, who represents Brighton Beach and Sheepshead Bay in southern Brooklyn, among other neighborhoods, was overwhelmingly re-elected to a second term in November, weeks after the charges.

Arthur L. Aidala, a lawyer who represented the councilwoman at her arraignment, said that Ms. Vernikov had “an outstanding reputation serving her constituency.”

He added: “She is pleased to have this all behind her, and looks forward to continuing her fight on behalf of all New Yorkers.”

Ms. Vernikov herself had no immediate comment on the charges being dropped, according to her district office.

In her online biography, the councilwoman is identified as a Ukrainian-born lawyer who aims to fight “rising crime, unreasonable mandates and the recent migrant crisis.” She also lists herself as “a leading voice against antisemitism; making waves by bringing stories of antisemitic assaults to the national and international stage.”

Ms. Vernikov’s arrest brought condemnation from a variety of groups and some calls for her to resign, including from the New York Working Families Party, a liberal political group that said “armed intimidation has no place in our city, much less near a place of learning.”

Back to top button