A year after the New York S.A.F.E. Act was passed, the executive director of New Yorkers Against Gun Violence (NYAGV) and allies in the State Legislature are pursuing a continued agenda for 2014.
Leah Gunn Barrett of NYAGV and two Assembly members, Michelle Schimel, a Democrat from Nassau County, and Brian Kavanagh, a Democrat from the East Side of Manhattan, detailed their gun-control agenda for the current legislative session in a press release this week. The two Assembly members are co-chairs of State Legislators Against Illegal Guns.
The trio indicate they want to build on the S.A.F.E. Act “to maintain New York’s role as a national leader on sensible gun-safety laws. The NY S.A.F.E. Act included crucial and widely popular provisions like background checks on all gun purchasers, a prohibition on sales of assault rifles with certain characteristics, a ban on high-capacity ammunition magazines and other measures. As a result of these and other protections in state law, New York earned an “A-minus” grade and ranked among the top five states in America for sensible gun laws, according to the Brady Campaign and the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence’s 2013 State Scorecard.
“Notwithstanding this success, the legislation announced (Wednesday) would represent a significant step toward greater gun safety and raise New York’s rating even higher.”
Mr. Kavanagh added, “While some seek to go backwards and undo the S.A.F.E. Act — and make it legal once again, for example, to sell guns to strangers with no questions asked, or to have guns with 30-round ammunition magazines — we’re taking our next steps forward to prevent gun violence without undue restrictions on responsible gun owners.”
The new gun-control priorities include:
® Requiring the safe storage of a gun using a gun safe, trigger lock, or secure gun cabinet “when a gun is not in the immediate possession or control of the owner, to prevent improper access and unintentional shooting, particularly by children.”
® Microstamping — requiring all semi-automatic handguns sold or delivered in New York to be equipped with a feature that imprints a unique code onto the shell casings every time a gun is fired, “to assist in solving crimes and deter straw purchasers and gun trafficking.”
® A one-gun-a-month limit and waiting period for purchases, limiting buyers to one handgun a month “to reduce straw purchases and trafficking, and requiring a 10-day waiting period before a purchaser takes possession of a firearm to give law enforcement officials sufficient time to perform a background check and help guard against impulsive acts of violence.”
® Empowering emergency responders to essentially seize firearms from the scene of a domestic violence dispute.
® Banning .50-caliber, military-style sniper rifles in the manner the S.A.F.E. Act banned the sales of assault weapons with certain features.
® Requiring dealers to report to law enforcement when failed background checks reveal people have attempted to buy guns they are prohibited from owning, and requiring gun-dealer employees who handle weapons to pass background checks.
While the measures are likely to get an airing in the Democrat-controlled Assembly, the state Senate, partially controlled by Republicans, will be a tougher sell.
A Gannett report this week points out, for instance, that former Mayor Michael Bloomberg had pushed for years for the microstamping requirement, but failed. The concept of marking handgun-ammunition shell casings is to provide a way to indentify the gun from which a round was fired — like how a bullet receives unique markings passing through a rifled barrel.
Opponents of microstamping shell casings argue, among other things, that the forensic value is too inexact — unlike the ballistic matching of bullets to barrels — to be used in evidentiary proceedings.
Regarding the proposed ban on .50-caliber, sniper-style weapons, a few recreational target shooters enjoy testing themselves on targets at several hundred yards or even farther. The extremely large and heavy rifles can cost several thousand dollars — and their use in criminal activity has never been recorded in New York state.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie vetoed a measure banning .50-caliber rifles in August, deciding there was no public-safety threat from the weapons, while a ban would deny their recreational use by shooters. It should be noted New Jersey has many similar gun laws to New York, including a ban on so-called assault weapons with certain features.
There is also this: Gov. Cuomo, who faces re-election this year and has been mentioned as a potential 2016 presidential hopeful, and other New York Democrats might not be as eager to push the gun-control envelope as they were in early January 2013. The S.A.F.E. Act created a lot of anger from a vocal, often-organized and always-voting group of constituents in upstate and Western New York. That anger Gov. Cuomo would like to see damped somewhat.
Meanwhile, since major provisions of the S.A.F.E. Act took effect, 1,291 charges had been issued through Dec. 17, according to the state Division of Criminal Justice Services. Of those, 1,155 were for felony possession of an illegal firearm, which had been a misdemeanor prior to the new laws. Most of the charges were in New York City, according to the Gannet report.
Assemblyman Steve Katz, a Republican from Westchester County, said this week the Legislature should repeal the S.A.F.E. Act, much less consider even new gun-control legislation.
“Over its first year, we’ve seen many New Yorkers arrested but zero lives saved,” he said in a statement. “What we need to do is recognize our failure with this legislation and focus on a mental-health-based approach by ensuring those who are ill are able to get the help they seek.”
(Jim Eckstrom is managing editor of the Olean Times Herald and executive editor of Bradford Publishing Co. His email is email@example.com.)