On March 31, a bill that would require domestic abusers in New York state to turn in all their guns sailed through the Senate and Assembly and was promptly signed into law by Governor Andrew Cuomo. The bill expands on previous legislation requiring abusers to turn over only their handguns, and also broadens the scope of convictions that apply, to include many misdemeanors along with felonies.
Among other things, Cuomo cited a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicating that “intimate partner violence” accounts for more than half of all killings of women in which the circumstances are known.
Nationally, gun control has been a hot topic since the February 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL, which left 17 students and teachers dead.
On March 24, more than one million people around the United States took to the streets in March for Our Lives protests. Several hundred thousand marchers descended on Washington, D.C., while “sibling” protests took place in some 800 cities around the world, including Albany. The marches were inspired by the activism of student survivors of the Parkland massacre. The young protestors’ goal is to put political pressure on elected officials to enact tougher gun laws, and to counteract the powerful legislative impact of the National Rifle Association.
Fallout from the Parkland tragedy has been felt in New York’s Capital Region in a couple of different ways. In an action linked to the shooting, the Saratoga Springs City Council on March 9 voted unanimously to permanently end gun shows at the Saratoga Springs City Center. On a darker note, the Florida attack appears to have inspired numerous “copycat” threats of violence at schools around the country, including public schools in the upstate New York communities of Saugerties, Corinth, Cairo-Durham, Berlin, and Mechanicville, and at LaSalle Institute in North Greenbush.
New York State: Strict Gun Laws, Low Per-Capita Death Rate
Despite heightened concerns over the threat of mass shootings, when it comes to gun laws, New York is considered one of the most strictly regulated states in the country. The state received an A- in the latest scorecard put out by the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence (only California received an A); New York’s gun-law strength was ranked fifth out of 50 states, while its gun-death rate per capita was one of the lowest in the nation, at No. 48.
In New York state, both a license and background check are required to possess a handgun; possessing a “long gun” (rifle or shotgun) requires only a background check, not a license. (A license for long guns is required in New York City; ours is one of a small number of states that allow local governments to enact gun laws that are more restrictive than state laws.)
In January 2013, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed into law the New York Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act, commonly known as the NY SAFE Act. Among other things, this legislation broadened the legal definition of assault weapons banned in the state, which include semi-automatic rifles and pistols with at least one “military-style” feature, such as telescoping stock, bayonet mount, flash suppressor and others. Weapons allowed under previous state law were grandfathered in, but were required to be registered with the state by January 15, 2014. The SAFE Act also reduced the allowable magazine capacity to seven rounds, but this provision was struck down in court, returning the maximum to its previous 10 rounds.
The state makes exceptions to the assault-weapons restrictions for weapons classified as “antique,” and also for acting or retired law-enforcement personnel. Permits for carry are issued by counties and police departments on a discretionary basis, and are harder to obtain in or near New York City and other urban areas.
The NY SAFE Act created a universal background check provision requiring all sellers and transferors of firearms and ammunition to conduct checks through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). The act also amended the state’s penal code to establish “tougher penalties for those who use illegal guns as well as measures to help combat gang violence.” New York law also requires that gun owners report lost or stolen firearms and/or ammunition to law enforcement.
The Giffords Law Center provides a concise summary of New York state gun laws, with links to more detailed information.