(New York Jewish Week) — Jewish New York City Councilwoman Inna Vernikov was arrested on Friday after appearing with a handgun outside a pro-Palestinian protest, as tensions flared in the city following Hamas’ devastating attack on Israel, and Israel’s military response in Gaza.
Vernikov, a Republican, attended the protest at Brooklyn College on Thursday afternoon to repudiate the pro-Palestinian demonstrators.
“There is a ton of police and we made sure that Jewish students feel safe,” she said in a video she posted from the scene to X, as protesters chanted “Free Palestine” behind her.
She also brought a gun, according to police and images from the scene that showed a gun tucked into her waistband. While Vernikov had a license to own a gun, guns are not permitted in “sensitive locations” in New York, including on college campuses and at protests.
One image was posted on social media by Jews for Racial and Economic Justice, a progressive group, which charged that Vernikov “brought a GUN to a rally to intimidate students” and used the hashtag #ExpelVernikov.
Police contacted Vernikov after the images circulated and she turned herself into the NYPD’s 70th precinct, where she was charged with criminal possession of a firearm. A protest is considered a “sensitive location” under New York firearms law, and criminal possession at such an event is a felony.
Vernikov surrendered her firearms license at the precinct and could face further consequences.
The New York City Council said in a statement that the incident was being investigated and “may require the recusal of committee members.”
The council said, “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.”
New York State Gov. Kathy Hochul said, “New York’s gun safety laws apply to everyone.”
New York State Senator Julia Salazar said on X, “There is no excuse, none whatsoever, for an elected official to bring a firearm to a college campus in New York.”
Vernikov, a lawyer, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. She posted on social media last month that she was officially a licensed gun owner, adding that she was going to bring the firearm “to as many places as I’m legally allowed to.” She also signaled that she was interested in a challenge to New York’s concealed carry law that seeks to widen the number of places where guns can be brought.
Vernikov, 39, is the City Council minority whip representing the 48th district in south Brooklyn and was elected to office in 2021. Born in what is today Ukraine, she represents parts of south Brooklyn with a significant Jewish population, including many immigrants from the former Soviet Union. She has been heavily involved in Jewish and pro-Israel causes, both as a city councilmember and before taking office.
Ahead of the protest, she released a statement urging caution due to the war but said the NYPD reported no credible threats of violence or terror in New York.
In a video posted from the rally, she described the demonstrators as “nothing short of terrorists, without the bombs.”
On Friday, as pro-Palestinian protesters demonstrated in Manhattan, Vernikov was silent on the issue. Instead, she tweeted prayers for people in Israel and thanks to those trying to help stranded Americans get home.
One of the first responses focused on her arrest. “There’s news being broadcast that you were arrested and charged with a felony for carrying your firearm near a school. A firearm that you had a Concealed Carry permit to carry. Is this true?” one commenter replied. “Do you have an attorney yet? Can we set up a fund to help you?”