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North country gun dealers critical of Cuomo’s crackdown

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With Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo calling for stricter gun laws, north country gun dealers and enthusiasts are divided over what should be done to prevent another mass killing.

Included in the governor’s proposals are further restricting magazine capacity — reducing the legal limit from 10 rounds of ammunition to seven — and requiring background checks on all private gun sales as well as ammunition purchases.

“It would pretty much end the firearms business in a realistic way,” said Joseph J. Russell, owner of Hilltop Hunting and Fishing, Canton.

Mr. Russell, a longtime gunsmith and dealer, said the reasoning behind the proposed regulations is flawed.

“I have carried a gunsmith and gun dealer license for 32 years,” he said. “It was just renewed and it took three months to renew, and I have never been charged with a crime in my life. I think that was the 51st time that I have been fingerprinted. I would say we are channeling our efforts in the wrong direction.”

Richard Jones, owner of North Woods Outfitters, Potsdam, agreed.

“It’s not going to accomplish anything,” he said. “It’s just going to make our life a little more difficult.”

In particular, Mr. Cuomo’s proposal to require background checks on all ammunition sales is causing alarm for gun dealers.

“They’re wasting my time and my professional efforts. They’re turning me into a paper shuffler,” Mr. Russell said.

Background checks on ammunition purchases would “slow everything right up,” Mr. Jones said, adding it would increase the cost of doing business because of the added time it would take to close transactions.

The state already has some of the nation’s tightest gun laws.

“You can’t have bayonets. You cannot have a flash hider that is removable, because they think you’re going to put a silencer on it,” Mr. Russell said. “You can’t have a magazine over 10 rounds unless you’re law enforcement. You can’t have a collapsible stock or a stock that’s capable of being shortened.”

But Miles E. Manchester, a Potsdam resident with a background in hunting and marksmanship, said he recently purchased a rifle in a private transaction he thinks should have had more governmental oversight.

After seeing an ad in a local paper for an AK-47 with two 30-round magazines and 800 rounds of ammunition for $800, Mr. Manchester said he couldn’t believe it would be a legal purchase.

“I said, ‘Is it possible that I can just call this number and buy this?’” he asked.

To find out, Mr. Manchester purchased the AK-47, which was sold by a private citizen, not a gun dealer, without a background check or registration.

“Here I am with a rifle I don’t particularly want, but I got it to prove a point,” he said.

Mr. Manchester turned his gun over to the state police. After holding the semi-automatic rifle for six weeks, the police returned it to him.

Because the gun has a stamp that identifies it as being made in 1980 — before the 1994 state assault weapons ban — Mr. Manchester’s AK-47 is legal, even with 30-round magazines and a bayonet mount. The only difference between his AK-47 and a military-grade weapon is it isn’t fully automatic, and the flash suppressor cannot be removed to attach a silencer.

“To me, this is the gaping hole that these weapons are legal here in New York state,” Mr. Manchester said. “I see three groups of people I don’t want getting a hold of these types of weapons: the mentally ill, out-and-out criminals and insurrectionists.”

In theory, Mr. Cuomo’s proposals will mean even private gun sales will have to be accompanied by a federal background check — a move Mr. Manchester believes is wise.

But Mr. Jones said he isn’t confident it will make much of a difference.

“I don’t know how you’d even regulate it,” Mr. Jones said. “There is no way to enforce that law. They really don’t understand the volume of guns that are out there.”

And Mr. Manchester said he is also concerned “that there may be overreach here that will not be very effective.”

Mr. Russell said the state is already one of the most restrictive in the nation, “and it didn’t stop that fellow in Webster because the justice system let us down 20 years ago when he killed his grandmother.”

Mr. Russell was referring to the Dec. 24 shootings in Webster, a Rochester suburb, by William H. Spengler, a convicted felon, of four emergency responders. Two firefighters were killed and Spengler also died. He was convicted of killing his grandmother with a hammer in 1980.

“In New York we don’t have a viable death penalty,” Mr. Russell said. “It doesn’t seem that there is any longer any deterrent for a criminal.”

Mr. Cuomo is expected to announce the specifics of his gun law reform package this week.

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