NEW YORK (AP) — A New York City lawmaker was arraigned on a gun charge Thursday after prosecutors said she brought a pistol to a pro-Palestinian demonstration.
City Council member Inna Vernikov, a Republican and vocal supporter of Israel, was seen in photos and videos with the butt of a gun jutting out from her waistband while she was counterprotesting at an Oct. 13 pro-Palestinian rally at Brooklyn College, according to prosecutors.
Student demonstrations both in support of Israel and in support of Palestinians have roiled college campuses in New York and across the nation since the start of the Israel-Hamas war. The conflict is especially fraught at Brooklyn College, which has large numbers of Palestinian and Jewish students.
Vernikov was charged in Brooklyn criminal court with one count of possessing a gun at a sensitive location.
Vernikov had a license to carry a concealed weapon, but under New York law, licensed gun owners may not bring weapons to certain sensitive locations, including protests and school grounds. Additionally, the state requires people licensed to carry handguns to keep them concealed.
Vernikov surrendered her gun after the arrest. Her next scheduled court date is Jan. 24.
Her attorney, Arthur Aidala, said images appearing to show his client bringing a gun to the protest could have been altered.
“In today’s world of artificial intelligence, you can put anything on social media,” Aidala said after the arraignment, news outlets reported. “Rules of evidence are, it’s a human being who has to make these descriptions, not based on what you see on a computer screen.”
Aidala said prosecutors also must show that the gun police recovered from Vernikov's home after they arrested her was operable.
“I’m assuming in January they’ll have a ballistics report telling us whether it’s worked and then they’ll have a witness who actually saw her with a gun,” he said.
The Associated Press sent an email to Aidala asking him if he was denying that Vernikov was carrying a gun at the protest.