Pictured: Tom Putnam, owner of Tom’s Guns & Ammo, talks to a customer at his Sodus gun shop. Putnam said New York State already has the toughest gun control laws in the country, and that the new NY SAFE Act would only affect law-abiding citizens. The rifle in front of Putnam is a single-shot .50-caliber. Though such a weapon can throw a heavy round nearly 1,970 yards, it is legal to own under the SAFE Act.
Taking Aim at the SAFE Act
After Gov. Andrew Cuomo rammed the New York Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act of 2013 (NY SAFE Act) into law last week, some local sheriffs took aim at the new gun control measure.
“He just passed a bill on gun control that basically restricts a million New Yorkers,” said Wayne County Sheriff Barry Virts.
Cayuga County Sheriff David Gould protested the speed with which the bill passed. Carried on the wings of the Newtown and Webster shootings, the bill flew through the Legislature with bipartisan support in about two days. Cuomo signed it the day it was passed, and it took effect immediately.
“I believe it was snuck through,” Cayuga County Sheriff David Gould said of the act. “It was not put out to the public.”
Peter Kehoe, Executive Director of the New York State Sheriffs’ Association, seemed to echo that view.
“A very complicated and controversial bill was rushed through without giving even members of the Legislature, much less the citizenry, time to analyze and respond to the proposal,” read a statement from Kehoe. “When a proposed law will affect citizens’ life or liberty, those citizens should have the opportunity to make their views known to their legislators.”
Touted by Cuomo as the most comprehensive gun control act in the US, the NY SAFE Act strengthens the state’s restrictions on the ownership and sale of semi-automatic assault-style weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines. It requires background checks for all sales of guns and ammunition and the periodic re-registration of assault-style weapons and handguns, and in other ways strengthens the state’s gun control laws (see sidebar). The State Police are responsible for enforcing most of its provisions, according to Virts, though local law enforcement might sometimes have to take action. For example, should a gun owner’s license be suspended, deputies might be ordered to confiscate his or her firearm. The law does not ask gun owners to turn in their guns wholesale, or law enforcement personnel to collect them.
“No one is being directed to go out and confiscate weapons, nor are any residents being asked to surrender their weapons, in this bill,” said Oswego County Undersheriff Eugene Sullivan.
Pictured: Tom Putnam looks over firearms that a customer offered to sell to him last Friday at his Sodus gun shop, Tom’s Guns & Ammo. Putnam said customers began coming with their guns after Gov. Cuomo signed the NY SAFE Act, fearing that they had become illegal under the new law. Cayuga County Undersheriff Eugene Sullivan said public misinformation about the act could prove to be the biggest hurdle it poses to law enforcement.
Unfortunately, some gun owners may not understand the SAFE Act’s limitations.
“My prediction would be that the largest hurdle we in law enforcement are going to have is misinformation,” Sullivan said. “We’ve already had a number of calls from a number of people saying that they would not surrender their guns, that they would not allow us to confiscate their guns.”
Even Gould spoke of being concerned that New York State had reached beyond Constitutional bounds through the SAFE Act-or could do so.
“As an elected representative and the chief law enforcement officer of Cayuga County, I will not violate anyone’s 2nd Amendment rights,” Gould said. “I will take it to court and do whatever I have to do to protect the rights of county residents.”
Virts said he would “uphold my Constitutional obligation to enforce the laws, whether I agree with it or not.”
At the same time, he clearly did not believe that the SAFE Act would prevent firearms from falling into the wrong hands.
“The mentally ill and the felons, they’re going to break the law anyhow,” he said.
Just after Cuomo signed the SAFE Act, President Barack Obama announced plans to strengthen the federal controls on guns, ammunition and their sale through legislation and executive action (see sidebar, far right). Clear details about such legislation were not available as of press time.
Pictured: Customers bellied up to the counter at Tom Putnam’s gun shop last Friday. The tone in the shop was one of outrage that day, driven by passage of the SAFE ACT.
The New York Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act of 2013 (NY SAFE Act) has been touted as the most comprehensive effort at firearms control in the nation.
Here are some highlights:
• Strengthens ban on assault weapons. Semi-automatic rifles and pistols and rifles that take detachable magazines and semi-automatic shotguns are classified as assault weapons if they also have at least one “military-style” feature, such as a pistol grip, folding stock, or bayonet attachment. Those who owned such weapons before the bill passed, (which are called “grandfathered” weapons) must register them within one year, and re-certify them every five years. Grandfathered weapons can only be sold out of state or to an immediate family member, and sales to family members have to be made through some who possesses a federally firearms license. The legislation makes ownership of the Bushmaster semi-auto rifle that was used in the Newtown, Connecticut shooting illegal.
• Strengthens regulations on ammunition. New York now has the strongest ban on high-capacity magazines in the US. Magazines sold within the state can contain no more than seven rounds, down from the 10 rounds allowed previously. Those who owned 10-round magazines before the act passed can keep them, but can load only seven rounds into them. Higher capacity magazines purchased before 1994 are banned, and will have to be sold out-of-state within one year.
• Tracking ammo sales. All ammunition dealers must register with the State Police. Each ammunition sale requires a state background check, and records of sales must be sent to the State Police, though they will be purged within a year of submission. Dealers must report any loss of their inventories. Direct Internet sales of ammunition are banned, though rounds ordered over the net can be delivered through face-to-face transactions with firearms dealers, subject to state background checks.
• Regular recertification of handguns and assault weapons. Assault rifle and handgun owners must recertify their permits every five years through their counties of residence. Through the recertification scheme, the state hopes to deny those who have been convicted of crimes, who are subject to orders of protection, and others who are not qualified to own firearms from doing so.
• Closing the private sale loophole. All gun transfers between private parties, except between immediate family members, must be conducted through a federal firearms licensee, subject to a federal background check.
• Webster Provision. The murder of a first responder who is engaged in his or her duties becomes a Class A-1 felony, which bears a mandatory penalty of life in prison without parole. Created in memory of Lt. Mike Chiapperini and Tomasz Kaczowka, volunteer firefighters who were fatally shot in Webster on December 24, 2012, while responding to a fire.
• Mental health and gun ownership. Mental health professionals must report to local mental health officials when they believe a patient is likely to cause serious harm to him or herself or others. The information will then be crosschecked against the gun registration database. If the patient owns a firearm, his or her license will be suspended, and officers of the law will be authorized to remove the weapon.
• Guns and schools. The act increases the penalty for possessing a firearm on school grounds or a school bus from a misdemeanor to a felony.
• Illegal gun use. The act establishes tougher penalties for those who use illegal guns, and contains measures to help combat gang violence.
• Safe gun storage. Firearms that are kept in households in which at least one individual lives who has been convicted of a crime, involuntarily committed to an institution, or is subject to an order of protection must be safely stored.
According to supporters of the NY SAFE Act, the legislation does not affect the types of rifles and shotguns that traditional sportsmen and hunters may use.
Obama’s Gun Control Proposals:
President Barack Obama’s far-reaching effort to institute stronger gun control measures includes legislative proposals that require Congressional approval and executive actions he can take on his own. Here are a few of the highlights:
Obama plans to ask Congress to:
• Reinstate the assault weapons ban that was in place from 1994 to 2004, and strengthen it.
• Limit firearm magazines to those capable of holding no more than 10 rounds.
• All gun sales, including those by private sellers, to be subject to criminal background checks.
• Boost the criminal penalties for “straw purchasers” who are able to pass background checks but buy guns for others, some of whom cannot pass the checks.
• Ban the possession of armor-piercing bullets, but for those in the military services of law enforcement.
• Act on a $4 billion proposal intended to help keep 15,000 police officers on the street.
• Fund programs that are designed to train more police officers, first responders and school officials in the proper ways to active armed attacks.
• Finance the $20 million expansion of a system that tracks violent deaths in the US, allowing it to increase the number of states it covers from 18 to 50.
• Give states a total of $30 million in grants to use to help their schools develop emergency response plans.
• Expand mental health programs that serve the needs of young Americans.
Through executive action, Obama plans to:
• Direct the US Attorney General to review the types of individuals who are prohibited from owning firearms in order to make sure dangerous people are not coming to possess them.
• Require federal agencies to make data relevant to background checks available to the federal background check system.
• Give the states greater incentives to share important information with the federal background check system.
• Require federal law enforcement authorities to trace guns that have been recovered during criminal investigations.
• Propose a rule by which law enforcement authorities will be able to run background checks on firearm owners whose guns have been seized before returning those guns to them.
• Propose training for law enforcement officers, first responders and school officials that would better prepare them for armed attack situations.
• Direct the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to research gun violence.
• Nominate a director for the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Congress has refused to confirm a permanent director for the agency for six years.