New York leaders will explore when to ban New Yorkers from wearing face coverings in the coming months to prevent hate crimes and aid law enforcement, but do not have a timeline to change the law, Gov. Kathy Hochul said Thursday.

The governor is working with New York City leaders, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and lawmakers to study how to bar New Yorkers from wearing face masks in certain areas after masked subway riders committed a series of hate crimes targeting Jewish New Yorkers earlier this week.

The state's anti-masking law was first enacted in the 19th Century to prevent people from wearing masks — like members of the Ku Klux Klan — and not terrorize private citizens. The policy was repealed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"There's obviously a problem here; this will be dealt with," Hochul said. "We will not tolerate individuals using masks to be responsible for criminal or threatening behavior ...It's part of talking about efforts to make New Yorkers feel safer."

Legislation to ban face masks would have a long list of exemptions, the governor said, including people who wear face coverings for religious or health reasons, a cultural event or holiday costume.

But an increasing number of New Yorkers have used face masks to avoid police detection while committing a crime.

"It's impossible to find these perpetrators and so it's something that we're talking about," Hochul said. "...There's no reason why these conversations can't start now. We'll have a strategy and then determine the right timing to address it."

New York's current law, which continues not to be in effect since the pandemic, prohibits someone from wearing a mask while loitering. State leaders will determine the best path to ban masks that cover the majority of a person's face. 

"I don't know that that's required today," Hochul said. We're looking to stop criminal activity — stop threatening activities. ... It's complicated, which is why I don't have all the answers now. But we will work with people engaged in this like the mayor, the police, the district attorneys but also the legislation to find the right path forward." 

The governor discussed potential legislative action to ban face coverings at a press conference in the Capitol on Thursday about public safety. 

The state will spend $36 million for the second year in a row to help law enforcement in upstate communities combat gun violence. The Gun Involved Violence Elimination, or GIVE, initiative allocated $36 million across 28 police agencies in 21 counties last year to hire personnel, enhance training, focused policing and street outreach to target gun crimes. 

Gun homicides in upstate communities have decreased 23% between 2021 and 2023, with shootings dropping by 35% in that time period, Hochul said. 

"Even our historic lows are getting lower — gun-related homicides are down 20% just from last year, again building on the previous decline," said Hochul.

But New York State Police have seized 937 guns in the first five months of 2024 — on track to exceed last year, state police Superintendent Steven James said. 

"We're not here to take a victory lap — never have, never will," Hochul said. "One victim of gun violence is one too many, so we still have plenty of work to do."