(New York Jewish Week) — New York City Councilwoman Inna Vernikov, a Jewish Republican from Brooklyn, was cleared of a criminal charge after bringing a firearm to a pro-Palestinian rally last month.
The Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office said on Friday that the charge was dropped because the firearm Vernikov surrendered to police was missing its recoil spring assembly, a crucial component, rendering the weapon “inoperable.”
“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,” the district attorney’s office said in a statement sent to the New York Jewish Week. “In order to sustain this charge, it must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt that the weapon in question was capable of firing bullets. Absent such proof, we have no choice but to dismiss these charges.”
Vernikov was arrested on Oct. 13 after images on social media showed her appearing with the weapon in her waistband outside a pro-Palestinian protest as tensions flared in the city days after Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel. Jews for Racial and Economic Justice, a progressive group that has joined in anti-Israel protests following Oct. 7 and that has accused Israel of “genocide,” shared the photo and called for Vernikov’s expulsion from the council.
Vernikov’s appearance with the weapon has become fodder for pro-Palestinian groups, who argue the incident is evidence protesters are being intimidated or stifled by authorities.
The outspoken lawmaker had attended the protest next to Brooklyn College the previous day to repudiate the pro-Palestinian protesters and to “make sure that Jewish students feel safe,” she said in a video she posted from the scene that is filmed from the waist up and does not show the gun.
Vernikov had a license for the Smith & Wesson 9mm pistol, but under New York law firearms are not permitted at “sensitive locations,” including at protests.
Police contacted Vernikov after the images circulated online and she turned herself into the NYPD’s 70th precinct, where she was charged with criminal possession of a firearm. She surrendered her firearms license and the weapon.
The incident drew condemnation from other lawmakers, with the New York City Council saying in a statement that the incident was being investigated and “may require the recusal of committee members.”
“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,” the council said in a statement.
New York State Gov. Kathy Hochul said, “New York’s gun safety laws apply to everyone.”
Vernikov, 39, is one of six Republicans on the 51-member City Council and is the minority whip, representing the 48th district in south Brooklyn. She was elected to office in 2021. Born in the former Soviet Union in what is now Ukraine, she represents a group of neighborhoods 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.
Vernikov was reelected to her seat earlier this month with a decisive win over Democratic challenger Amber Adler, who is also Jewish.
Vernikov’s lawyer, Arthur L. Aidala, hailed the dropped charge, saying in a statement, “Councilwoman Vernikov has an outstanding reputation serving her constituency, which since her reelection will continue to do for the next two years.”
“She is pleased to have this all behind her and looks forward to continuing her fight on behalf of all New Yorkers to keep this city the greatest city in the word,” Aidala said in a statement provided to the New York Jewish Week.
The dropped charge was first reported by the local news outlet The City.