A Republican New York City council member is facing criminal charges after she openly carried a handgun to a pro-Palestinian rally at a local college on Thursday, police said.
The firearm, which police identified as a black Smith Wesson 9 mm, appeared partially tucked in her waistband in photos posted online. It was not visible in a video that she posted on social media of herself at the rally.
In her video, Vernikov accuses those protesting Israel’s retaliatory airstrikes on Palestineans of being supporters of Hamas, the militant group that governs the Gaza Strip. Last Saturday, Hamas militants attacked Israel, killing about 1,200 people and kidnapping about 150 others. Israel launched strikes on the territory in response.
“If you’re here today, standing with these people, you’re nothing short of a terrorist without the bombs,” Vernikov says in the video of the protesters holding signs condemning Israel’s ongoing bombings of Gaza, which is home to more than 2 million people, nearly half of whom are children.
Vernikov’s office told her constituents in a statement released Thursday that she was told by local police officials that there are no credible threats of violence or terrorism in her district in relation to the war overseas. Regardless, she urged her constituents to “remain vigilant and take responsibility for their own safety and the safety of their families, without cowering in fear.”
The 39-year-old council member is licensed to carry a gun, police said, but openly carrying a firearm is prohibited by law in the state of New York. Firearms are altogether banned on school grounds and other locations deemed “sensitive” even if the gun owner has a license.
“New York’s gun safety laws apply to everyone,” New York Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) chimed in on the news of Vernikov’s arrest on X, the site formerly known as Twitter.
Vernikov, who publicly boasted of obtaining a gun license only a month ago, was charged with criminal possession of a firearm, and her gun and her firearm permit were surrendered, police said.
“At no point in time was anyone menaced or injured as a result of her possessing the firearm at the earlier protest,” police said in a statement.
Vernikov did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday.
New York City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams (D) said Vernikov’s actions are under investigation and that the matter will be referred to the council’s Standards and Ethics Committee, which Vernikov is a member of. Adams suggested Vernikov may need to be recused.
“It is unacceptable and unlawful for a civilian to ever bring a firearm to a rally or protest, and especially important for elected officials to model a respect for the law that is expected of all New Yorkers,” Adams said in a statement Friday.
Tensions have been high across the globe in response to the ongoing bloodshed.
New York City’s police force said it has increased patrols and surveillance in light of the ongoing violence overseas and related protests being organized.