Self Defense Becoming A Necessity In Crime-Ridden NYC, Meet Some Surprising New Gun Owners

(New York Post) The number of New Yorkers legally packing guns is on the rise — and they’re not necessarily who you’d expect.

For a city where obtaining a license to carry a firearm was once, not that long ago, almost impossible, a surprising number of NYC residents — 17% — have bought a gun in the past year, according to a July Siena poll.


This comes after a landmark Supreme Court decision last year radically reshaped gun laws by striking down New York State’s century-old restrictions on carrying concealed firearms.

“I want it for protection,” Brooklyn councilwoman Inna Vernikov told The Post of her new gun.

She received her concealed carry license this month after her application was approved in July.

When the Jewish Ukrainian native heads to her local synagogue for the high holidays starting Friday, she’ll be carrying an increasingly popular temple accessory: a 9MM Smith & Wesson.

Inna Vernikov“With anti-semitism, it doesn’t feel safe in the city anymore,” Brooklyn councilwoman Inna Vernikov said of her decision to apply for a gun permit.Stephen Yang

While she’s been taking self-defense classes like Krav Maga for the past few years, the 39-year-old Republican bought the firearm, which costs about $475, to “defend myself and my community.

“With anti-semitism, it doesn’t feel safe in the city anymore. You’re always on edge and watching your back,” said Vernikov, who asked her synagogue to designate her as a volunteer safety guard. (“Only certain people, such as official safety guards and congregation leaders, are allowed to carry guns in places of worship.)

“We are short on cops and recruitments are way down … As much as we need the police, we can’t just rely on the police. Something life-altering can happen in the time it takes for cops to arrive.”

Nearly 90% of NYC residents surveyed in the Siena poll called crime in the city a serious problem.

Inna Vernikov with gun-safety instructorVernikov has completed 16 hours of classroom studies as well as two hours of live fire training.Stephen Yang

Vernikov completed a mandatory New York State concealed-carry class this spring, including 16 hours of classroom studies and two hours of live fire training.

New York State’s concealed-carry license also requires four character references, a list of former and current social media accounts for the last three years, an in-person interview, and disclosure of an applicant’s spouse or domestic partner as well as any other adults residing in the home.

At Vernikov’s “packed” shooting practice classes on Staten Island, she said, there were more female attendees than she expected.

Victoria Bonelli at a firing rangeVictoria Bonelli was nine months pregnant when she finished a three-day, 18-hour training course this summer.
Victoria Bonelli and instructor at firing rangeBonelli said she decided to arm herself because of crime in the city.

“It’s peace of mind and I can now protect myself and someone else, but of course, the goal is to never have to use it,” she said of her firearm. “The best thing you can do is defend yourself.”

Victoria Bonelli shares that sentiment.

“It’s not just my life anymore. I’ll be walking around with a baby and putting her in the car all the time. I’m really just ensuring that I’m properly equipped for a life-or-death situation. This is our reality now,” the mom of a newborn daughter told The Post.

Aida at her grocery storeAida, who owns a grocery store in The Bronx, has applied for her gun permit after being scared by violence against market workers.Provided to NY Post

The 25-year-old from Whitestone, Queens, was nine months pregnant when she finished a three-day, 18-hour training course this summer, including lessons on gun safety and citizens’ rights.

“Being a first-time mom with all the stuff going on in NYC, I just don’t feel as comfortable walking around,” said the registered nurse and licensed esthetician who owns her own spa, SinvigoratedNYC. “Whitestone is a pretty good area, but I travel to other parts of Queens, Brooklyn, to [Manhattan] if I have to. It sucks to say, but even in ‘good areas,’ you never know what could happen nowadays.”

While awaiting her permit, Bonelli said she’s modified her routine.

Aida at her desk“It was never in my mind before,” Aida said of owning a gun. “It was only cops who were supposed to have them [guns].”Provided to NY Post

“I used to love going into the city. I don’t even take the subway now. I would rather pay $100 in tolls than take the subway.”

Helming her training course was retired NYPD Sgt. Johnny Nunez runs an 18-hour New York State/ NYC concealed-carry course as required by the state.

“The demand is there — it’s incredible,” Nunez told The Post, noting the wide range of New Yorkers looking to protect themselves. “We’re seeing a lot of husband and wife teams, doctors and realtors — a safety issue because they show homes.”

Besides an uptick in the number of women, Nunez said he’s had more business owners register for the class, including barbers, jewelers, and grocers.

Johnny NunezRetired NYPD Sgt. Johnny Nunez, who runs an 18-hour New York State/ NYC concealed-carry course, said he has seen an increase in female students as well as business owners.Courtesy of Johnny Nunez

Aida, a Yonkers mom of two, fits the bill as a Manhattan market owner.

“It was never in my mind before,” said the 35-year-old, who grew up in a supermarket family. “It was only cops who were supposed to have them [guns]; they were supposed to provide us safety.”

But violence against local bodega workers — including a March robbery on the Upper East Side that ended in a deli employee’s death and a similar situation on Staten Island in July — scared her.

“The way things are now, we have to protect ourselves,” said Aida, who is in the midst of her permit application process.

“The mayor recently said that there are too many guns on the street — no, that’s not correct. It’s that there are too many illegal guns on the street,” Nunez said. “I challenge the politicians to show me the statistics: How many of those shootings [in the five boroughs] are trained concealed-carry gun owners responsible for?”

Storefront of Judaica World in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, with a woman standing outside“In our Orthodox community as a whole, when it comes to owning a gun, it’s not controversial at all,” said a gun owner named Dave who has a new concealed-carry permit.Emmy Park for NY Post
"Lawful" guns permitted sign at Judaica WorldJudaica World in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, has a window sign letting customers know that lawful guns are permitted on the premises.Emmy Park for NY Post

Still, Nunez warned that pursuing a license is for everyone.

“I tell people that your weapon is a last resort only to be used in imminent danger. The training is big,” he said of the de-escalation and conflict resolution training. “We say from the beginning that if you’re the type of person who gets caught up in emotions, this is not for you. Your life is going to change with a concealed carry weapon.”

Joel Collado, a Corona, Queens-based doorman who holds down two jobs on the East Side, told The Post that he’s awaiting his concealed carry permit “to have peace of mind.”

With a late shift ending after 11 p.m., he’s ditched the subway and opts instead to ride a bike or scooter into the city for work.

“I never could have imagined the city getting the way it is now. The crime has come up,” said the 43-year-old, adding he’s had friends who were assaulted in Manhattan. “Let me be ready.”

Storefront of Crown Drugs pharmacy in BrooklynSeveral stores in Crown Heights — an area with a large Orthodox Jewish population — now have signs letting customers know that they support concealed carry.Emmy Park for NY Post
"Concealed Carry Is Welcome Here" sign at Crown Drugs“Thank you for keeping our children safe” reads the concealed-carry sign at Crown Drugs.Emmy Park for NY Post

Collado is actively researching which firearm to eventually purchase and looking at safes for home storage. He has completed the state’s required firearms safety training course.

“It’s a big responsibility. It’s all about safety.”

Dave, a professional in the fire-prevention industry in Boro Park, Brooklyn, said he’s grateful to take on the responsibility.

His concealed-carry permit was approved a few months ago.

Inna Vernikov“We are short on cops,” Vernikov also said of her decision to get a concealed-carry permit.Stephen Yang


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