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Gov. Cuomo signs “common sense” gun bill

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Less than a day after the Senate passed the Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act (NY SAFE) the Assembly approved the bill in a 104 to 43 vote on Tuesday.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo signed the bill into law just after 5 p.m. and hailed it as a “common sense” move for the state.

Key provisions of the law include a tougher assault weapons ban, stricter regulations on ammunition, more serious penalties for those who facilitate the acquisition of a rifle for someone who is unqualified, harsher sentences for those who murder first responders and mental health screening designed to keep firearms away from the mentally ill.

The law will also require background checks on all firearm purchases, including private sales.

“By passing measures to keep guns out of the hands of those that tend to target our volunteers and children, we are honoring all our first responders and the memories of those that have died needlessly,” Assemblywoman Addie J. Russell, D-Theresa said in a statement.

The law further prevents detailed information about pistol permit carriers being available to the public – a key issue for Mrs. Russell.

Peter B. O’Connell, lobbyist for the Fireman’s Association of the State of New York, said the inclusion of harsher penalties against those who murder first responders was a pleasant surprise and very well received by the group’s legislative committee.

But the Assembly’s passage of the bill was not without opposition. More than four hours of at times heated debate passed before the law was approved during which numerous grievances were brought to the floor.

Several upstate gun dealers are unhappy with the legislation.

Joseph J. Russell, owner of Hilltop Hunting and Fishing, Canton, said the legislation signed into law on Tuesday will have a crippling impact on his business.

“In my opinion it’s going to end the gun business in this state,” Mr. Russell said.

NY SAFE is “costing me $200,000 a year in sales, conservatively,” Mr. Russell added, due to the weapons he will no longer be able to sell. NY SAFE is a sweeping piece of legislation designed to fundamentally impact the state’s gun culture.

The new definition of an assault weapon includes any semi-automatic rifle with detachable magazines and one of the following characteristics: a folding or telescoping stock, a pistol grip, a thumb hole stock, a second hand grip, a bayonet mount, a threaded barrel, a flash suppressor, a muzzle break, a muzzle compensator or a grenade launcher.

Semi-automatic pistols and shotguns fall under similar classifications.

Under the law, assault weapons currently owned in the state will need to be registered and cannot be sold to anyone within the state besides licensed dealers.

The law also requires every purchase of ammunition be accompanied by a state background check.

Assemblyman Joseph R. Lentol, D-Brooklyn, cosponsor of the bill, said NY SAFE was drafted with help from the state police.

“This bill was not drafted in an ivory tower,” Mr. Lentol said, responding to criticism that NY SAFE inadequately reflects the reality of gun ownership in the state.

Much of the criticism, however, revolved around the speed at which the law was acted on.

“We only received this law 14 hours ago,” Assemblyman J. Anthony Jordan, R-Jackson, said.

Mr. Jordan went on to say that the Legislature had “not had the opportunity to examine this by the light of day.”

That being said, Mr. Jordan was particularly disappointed with the stipulation requiring all ammunition purchases to be accompanied by a background check.

“If I go to a local sporting store to buy .22 shells there is now a process that has to be followed,” Mr. Jordan said, arguing that the regulation goes too far.

Assemblyman Kenneth D. Blankenbush, R-Black River, said the law doesn’t do enough to deal with the mentally ill.

“Until we straighten out what kind of prescriptions and what kind of drugs our young people are on, we may never stop the violence that is going on today,” Mr. Blankenbush said.

State Senator Joseph A. Griffo (R-Rome) cited concerns over the magazine limitations and backgrounds checks for ammunition purchases when commenting on his reason for not supporting the legislation. “Anyone with more than seven rounds in an ammunition clip violates the law, even if the ammo is in an old currently legal clip sitting locked up inside the house,” Mr. Griffo said in a statement.

“With provisions like that, I do not believe we are enhancing public safety in a meaningful way, or preventing criminals from getting guns, as much as placing new restrictions on honest, law-abiding gun owners and sportsmen.”

Mr. Griffo noted he did support aspects of the bill that aim to keep deadly weapons out of the hands of the mentally ill, and a provision that would give anyone who kills an emergency first reponder a life sentence without chance for parole.

But Mr. Griffo found issue with the way so many different pieces of legislation were “lumped together.”

“I want a bill that would have a meaningful result, and I’m not sure that this legislation goes after the roots aspects of the issue,” he said. “Are these measures truly going to prevent the horrors (of gun-violence) that we’ve seen?”

Mr. Griffo also found fault with how the legislation was crafted late at night and worries the speed at which the bill was written and passed in the Senate will cause lawmakers to ignore the feelings of their constituents. He would like to see longer, more comprehensive national discussions that more deeply examine issues of unregistered firearms, diagnoses and treatment of mental health issues and America’s “culture of violence,” stemming from violent television, films and video games.

Mr. Lentol admitted several “chapter amendments” will be required for the bill. In particular the bill has confusing language that could be read to require even law enforcement officers be unarmed in school buildings.

“That’s another boo-boo we have in this bill,” Assemblyman Alfred C. Graf, R-Holbrook, said.

Following the passage of the law, high capacity magazines that are not classified as “relics” must be turned in to the authorities. Ten-round magazines will no longer be sold in the state but anyone who owns one can still use it so long as they do not put more than seven rounds in it.

Anyone owning an assault weapon has one year to register it. A failure to register an assault weapon could result in being charged with a class E felony.

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