More state gun control measures likely

Optimism greets passage of six new measures by Legislature
In this file photo from Oct. 13, 2017, Dave Leon, owner of B&D Gunsmoke in Rotterdam, holds one of its most popular shotguns.
In this file photo from Oct. 13, 2017, Dave Leon, owner of B&D Gunsmoke in Rotterdam, holds one of its most popular shotguns.

ALBANY — Following legislative passage last week of New York’s most ambitious gun control legislation in six years, advocates and opponents are arguing for and against additional controls.

The six new measures that will go before Gov. Andrew Cuomo for signature into law would, among other things, ban rapid-fire devices, allow courts to confiscate guns from people deemed dangerous and bar teachers from bringing guns into schools.

Cuomo has long advocated stronger gun control measures, and he hailed the passage of these measures, four of which he had listed on his own list of priorities for this year. 

In remarks to gun-control advocates, the governor said: “I don’t want you to think that the job is over today because it is unfolding.” 

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, D-Bronx, and Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins also signaled support for additional gun control measures in comments to reporters.

New York’s governors and its two top legislative leaders — often negotiating privately as the “Three Men In a Room” before Stewart-Cousins broke the gender barrier — have long held near-total control over passage of laws and allocation of spending in the state. Given their common interest, the stage is set for additional legislation. 

The next gun control measure might well be a bill that would criminalize storage of unlocked guns in premises where children are present. It’s inspired by the 2010 shooting death in Wilton of 12-year-old Nicholas Naumkin by a friend playing with his father’s pistol. It expands on the 2013 SAFE Act, which requires gun owners to keep their firearms secured if they live with someone barred from owning guns.

The measure is co-sponsored by Heastie and Stewart-Cousins in their respective chambers and was moving through early stages of legislative review last week.

Rebecca Fischer, executive director of New Yorkers Against Gun Violence, said passage of the six proposed laws was a victory, and a safe-storage mandate is the next priority for her organization. 

“We are extremely grateful for the leadership of the governor and the Legislature,” she said. “I think the fact that this package was passed so early in the session … shows that gun violence prevention is a top priority in New York state.”

These additional laws at the state level are needed because of the weakness of federal laws, Fischer said. But she sees the mood on gun control changing even at the federal level, particularly after the massacre at a Florida high school in early 2018.

“I think the nation, particularly New York, is coming around to the idea that gun laws are needed.”

When asked by The Daily Gazette, Fischer and the offices of Cuomo, Heastie and Stewart-Cousins would not identify any other gun control measures they are advocating or considering beyond safe storage.

The six bills approved last week would:

  • Bar teachers from bringing guns into schools. 
  • Set up gun-buyback programs.
  • Create a so-called Red Flag Law, allowing judges to confiscate firearms from people suspected of being at high risk of violence but not charged with committing violence.
  • Ban bump stocks and similar devices that allow a legal semiautomatic rifle to mimic the rapid automatic fire of an illegal machine gun.
  • Expand background checks to include mental health records in other states.
  • Extend to 30 days the waiting period for prospective gun buyers whose federal background check is neither approved nor denied. (Under current New York law, the gun sale can be completed if there has been no determination by the feds after three days.)

Craig Serafini, owner of Upstate Guns and Ammo in Niskayuna, said this new package of legislation seems to target gun owners’ rights more than their guns, and accordingly, he’s seen people hurrying to get pistol permits rather than stock up on guns or ammo.

“I think the reaction’s pretty much the same it has been,” he said. “They target legal gun owners, do nothing to take illegal guns away from criminals.”

Serafini suggested the state use the money that would be needed to enforce these new laws to instead conduct arrest warrant sweeps and targeted police patrols, to take people known to be violent off the streets.

Serafini said the next steps by a state government controlled by downstate Democrats might be worse. He particularly objects to the safe storage mandate, which in its preliminary wording would create a misdemeanor-level offense.

“I appreciate the concept of safe storage, but telling me I have to have my firearms locked and unloaded in my own home is telling me I can’t defend myself,” he said.

David Leon, co-owner of Gunsmoke, a Rotterdam gun store, said the new measures range from feel-food (gun buybacks) to redundant (bump stocks already are illegal to use in New York) to constitutional infringement (the Red Flag Law).

“What I see this time is an attack on the legal gun owners, which is the most disturbing part of this,” he said. “No proof is necessary and those [Red Flag rulings] can last six months before they can be legally challenged. To me that’s a conflict of individual rights.”

Gun retailers and the shooting sports community are speculating what additional measures may come next from state government.

“We just have rumors of what they’re going to do in ’19,” Leon said. “The general feeling is a discomfort — ‘you better get your pistol permits now.’ Everybody feels it’s tightening up.”

Those rumors include mandatory liability insurance for gun owners, mandated microstamping technology to trace guns used in crimes and limits on ammunition purchases. (Some of these are more than rumors, though not necessarily destined to be enacted. A Democratic senator from Brooklyn for example drafted legislation in late 2018 that would subject gun purchasers to reviews of their social media accounts and internet search history.)

“When’s it end?” Leon wondered.

Even without new laws, New York state already has some of the strongest gun control measures in the nation, and one of the lowest gun-related death rates. The Giffords Law Center, a national pro-gun control organization, rates New York’s gun laws fifth-strongest among the 50 states but gives New York an A-minus rather than an A, apparently because there currently is no Red Flag Law and no child access prevention law.

Cuomo has expressly supported strengthening the state’s gun laws. His signature is required before the six bills passed by the Legislature last week become law; his office said Friday it would process the measures.

Cuomo’s remarks to gun control advocates Tuesday reflected the frustrations he has had trying to advance gun control measures prior to his fellow Democrats winning control of the state Senate in the November elections.

“Today is another step forward,” he told them. “It’s not going to be everything, but it’s another step forward. And when you’ve been at this crusade for as long as I have, you realize sometimes it’s stone-to-stone across the morass. You know, one step at a time and this is a big positive step. But I will tell you this, New York leads the nation.”

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