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Sackets Harbor Vigilantes club feels ostracized by gun control laws

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SACKETS HARBOR — A club of Wild West gun enthusiasts will continue to be allowed to fire classic American firearms that hold 10 bullets, instead of seven, because antique guns are exempt from the recently approved NY SAFE Act, according to the office of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.

The Sackets Harbor Vigilantes — a 30-member club that hosts Western-style shootouts from April through October — originally mulled canceling two public shootouts planned for this summer when the gun control laws were passed last week. They were convinced that two antique guns that hold 10-round magazines to be featured in those competitions — the original Ruger 10-22 rifle from 1960 and a 1911 Colt pistol — would be affected by the provision that limits loaded bullets to seven, and thought owners would be reluctant to use them in competitions.

But the governor’s office told the Times on Tuesday that those guns are exempt from the magazine provision in the NY SAFE Act because they qualify as antiques. According to section 38 of the act, antique guns are defined as “manufactured at least 50 years prior to the current date .. but not including replicas.”

The answer to this question was not readily available on the state’s frequently -asked-questions page about the act: http://www.governor.ny.gov/2013/gun-reforms-faq. The governor’s office was compelled to dig up specific language from the law — also available on the website — to find the answer.

Robert T. Wood, co-founder of the club launched in 2007, said it is welcome news for the club. The club plans to host “Ruger Rim Fire” shootouts in June and August at the Sackets Harbor Sportsman’s Club for the first time, in which the Ruger 10-22 rifle will be used.

“If that is the way the state is going to interpret the law, then yes, we’ll host the competitions,” the 69-year-old said. “It’s the type of competition that brings together fathers and sons, mothers and daughters.”

Despite the assertion of the governor’s office, Mr. Wood wants more evidence from the state that owners may indeed fire 10 bullets with the Colt 1911 pistol, which the club uses to host “Wild Bunch” shootouts every September. Confusing the matter is a current definition of antique handguns found on the Division of State Police website that states that, if ammunition is currently produced and sold by manufacturers on the market for a particular gun, “the weapon no longer meets the criteria of an antique weapon and is required to be registered.” Bullets for the Colt 1911 pistol are readily available in stores.

Nevertheless, the governor’s office told the Times the definition of antique guns in the NY SAFE Act is the now the current law. Spokesman Richard A. Azzopardi did not respond, though, when asked if the old definition of antique firearms is obsolete.

Mr. Wood said, “A clarification of the law is needed so that our club members can understand it.”

Starting April 15, those who bring modern firearms that don’t qualify as antiques to shooting ranges will be allowed to load only seven bullets in 10-round magazines; only magazines with seven or fewer rounds may be sold by dealers in New York. Magazines holding more than 10 rounds will become illegal to own Jan. 14, 2014.

The vigilantes club sprouted in Sackets Harbor as an offshoot of a California-based group called Cowboy Action Shooting started by the Single Action Shooting Society, which has chapters across the U.S. Club members wear period cowboy clothes dating back to the late 1800s for shootouts, and they’re required to use aliases. Most guns the group uses are single-action, except for the 1911 Colt pistol used in “Wild Bunch” shootouts. The competition is named after a 1969 epic Western film called “The Wild Bunch”, about an old outlaw gang on the Texas-Mexico border in 1913 that uses the pistols.

“We celebrate the Old West in many different ways here, and most of the members own these Colt pistols,” said club leader Joseph P. Hulbert, who’s pleased owners will still be able to fire the pistols under the law. “It is nice that they have allowed an exemption for the antique gun.”

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