One Month After a Tragedy, New York Tightens Gun Laws [Updated]

Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino also addressed guns in a letter to the Journal News today.

New York State will adopt tigher gun regulations that officials hope will act as a ballast in preventing future gun violence.

The State Assembly voted 104-to-43 Tuesday afternoon to pass the NY SAFE Act, just one month and one day after the tragic elementary school massacre in Newtown, CT.

On Monday, New York State Senate approved legislation that would bring a major overhaul of gun control laws.

The bill, which passed by a vote of 43-18, includes provisions that, based on similar events that, according to published reports, are in response to the Sandy Hook School mass shooting in Newtown, CT, and the fatal shooting of two volunteer firefighters in Webster, NY. To read the full bill, click here.

The laws strengthen the ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines; Gov. Andrew Cuomo is expected to sign the bill into law sometime Tuesday, or shortly after.

Many of the cardinal changes included in the SAFE Act were touted by Cuomo in his recentState of the State address.

The legislation also includes a provision that allows pistol permit holders who meet certain criteria to opt out of having their names and addresses publicly disclosed, which seems to be in response to a controversial permits map published last month by The Journal News. The paper obtained its information through Freedom of Information requests.

Today, Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino formally asked the publication to remove its web-based map in a letter to Journal News Publisher Janet Hassan.

He stated, "My request is based on public safety concerns and basic common sense."

Astorino went on to state that the publication of the map was "misguided" and "It demonized individuals who did nothing wrong, violated their privacy and potentially put them and their families—especially victims of domestic violence and current and former judges and law enforcement officials—in harm's way."

Rockland County officials have also attacked the map, while Putnam County refused to fulfill the paper's FOIL request.

Under the Senate-approved bill, the criteria in which people can opt out of disclosure are for: current or retired law enforcement, a person who has an order of protection, a criminal case witness or juror, and an applicant with a spouse or partner who could pose a safety threat to them. Requests for exemptions can be made after a license has been granted and they would not be disclosed.

Provisions in the overall package include a ban on high-capacity magazine clips, a strict definition of what constitutes an assault weapon, requiring background checks for private gun sales and the use of a statewide database and registry for licensed gun holders.

The state Assembly, according to media reports, is considering its own legislation today.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-New Castle) praised the senate's passage of the legislation, which he calls the NY SAFE Act.

"Tonight, the Senators that voted for the NY SAFE Act of 2013 made a bold statement, coming together in a bipartisan, collaborative manner to meet the challenges that face our state and our nation, as we have seen far too many senseless acts of gun violence," the governor said in a statement.

State Sen. Greg Ball (R-Patterson), who voted against the bill, blasted the legislation and criticized Cuomo for supporting it.

“We needed solid provisions to keep the violently, mentally ill from harming our communities, our kids and our families," Ball said in a press release. "That didn’t happen tonight. While much in this bill, as far as stiffer penalties for real criminals and help on the mental health front is good, the last minute push, in the middle of the night without critical public input from sportsmen and taxpayers was outrageous and forced members to vote on a bill they had not read. While I’m glad we won on many fronts, including my permit privacy legislation against the Journal News, I simply cannot support a bill that turns law abiding citizens into criminals by creating an entire new category of illegal firearms out of currently legal rifles and shotguns,” he added.

Ball, among the most vocal critics of the paper's map, issued a separate press release supporting inclusion of a non-disclosure item in the overall package.

Provisions of the passed bill include:

  • Closing a loophole for private gun sales, which would curtail purchases without background checks
  • Limiting high-capacity gun magazines to seven rounds, and with no grandfathering for those that do not.
  • Using a statewide database for licensing and registering guns.
  • A stricter definition for what constitutes an assault weapon. The state's proposed language for banned weapons would involve a "one-feature test," which would include semi-automatic guns that have detachable magazines that have at least one feature "commonly associated with military weapons." The the old "two-feature" test, which was used is an expired federal ban, required two military weapon features for a gun to be banned. All assault weapons much be registered and transfer of the weapons is limited to dealers and out-of-state buyers.
  • Gun licenses must be re-certified every five years by counties.
  • Allowing for pistol permit holders to request keeping their names and addresses private if they meet a list of exempted categories of people.
  • The statewide database for records and licenses will not be disclosed, but it can be accessed by law enforcement. Records can be released through a court order.
  • Gun owners are required to safely store their weapons to prevent them from falling into the hands of people who are barred from having them, such as those who have been convicted of crimes with prison time more than a year, people "determined to be mentally defective" or committed, people under orders or protection and people convicted of domestic violence offenses.
  • Requiring mental health professionals to report someone who "is likely to engage in conduct that will cause serious harm to him- or herself or others." However, if the person makes their decision in what is called good faith, then they would not be subject to criminal and civil action.
  • Extending initial supported outpatient mental health treatment from six month to a full year.
  • Intentional murder of first responders will be a Class A-1 felony, with a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment.
  • Bringing a gun on school grounds or on a school bus will be elevated from a misdemeanor to a felony.

New York's Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has hailed the tightening of gun laws as a step forward.

"With the passage of this legislation, our state has taken decisive action to protect New Yorkers from gun violence," he said Tuesday. "I look forward to continuing to work together with my colleagues in government and law enforcement as we seek to expand our efforts to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people."

Others, however, are chagrined by the legislation.

"These gun control schemes have failed in the past and will have no impact on public safety and crime," the National Rifle Association penned in a press release Tuesday. "Sadly, the New York Legislature gave no consideration to that reality."

The National Rifle Association (NRA) said its New York members "are outraged" at the passage of the legislation.

"These gun control schemes have failed in the past and will have no impact on public safety and crime. Sadly, the New York Legislature gave no consideration to that reality," The NRA said in a statement. "While lawmakers could have taken a step toward strengthening mental health reporting and focusing on criminals, they opted for trampling the rights of law-abiding gun owners in New York, and they did it under a veil of secrecy in the dark of night.

"The legislature caved to the political demands of a Governor and helped fuel his personal political aspirations. New York lawmakers have ignored and excluded gun owners throughout this legislative process, but the NRA and our New York members remain committed to having a meaningful conversation about protecting our children and will speak frankly about the lawmakers who have failed to do so."

Harry One January 15, 2013 at 11:59 PM


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