Last weekend I attended what was billed as the Warren County SAFE Act Forum held on the banks of the Hudson River in Lake Luzerne.
There, some 400 spectators gathered to hear the speeches of Second Amendment-supporting politicians such as Assemblymen Dan Stec and Steve McCoughlin, representatives from various pro-gun groups and even members of the law enforcement community.
The goal of the event’s organizers was to educate and inform the public about the NY SAFE Act around the timing of that law’s one-year anniversary. To call this gathering a celebration would be an insult. It did, however, serve its intended purpose: continuing to unite and inform gun owners in the state who New York State Rifle and Pistol Association (NYSRPA) president Tom King says continue to fight for their Second Amendment rights.
You may recall that the bill really was passed a year ago last week in the midnight hour giving the legislature little time to read it. Some parts of the SAFE Act are already in effect; others are on the calendar. Meanwhile, in early 2013, NYSRPA, with the support of the NRA, immediately began proceedings on a lawsuit to repeal the act. The first round did not result in a successful repeal but a federal judge recently overturned the ban on putting only seven rounds of ammunition in a 10-shot clip or magazine.
When it was passed in 2013 the SAFE Act gave New York its own definition of an assault weapon, which hadn’t been done since the Clinton gun ban of 1994. That definition considers an assault weapon to be any semiautomatic rifle or shotgun capable of accepting a detachable magazine with just one military-style that includes folding, telescoping or thumbhole stocks, a protruding pistol grip, a second grip for the weak hand, bayonet mount, flash suppressor, muzzle brake, threaded barrel or grenade launcher.
The SAFE Act immediately banned the sale of firearms in New York that it defined as assault weapons. Owners of such firearms can keep them but but they are supposed to register them by April 15, 2014. The legislation also closed the loophole, as it was called, on personal sales of all firearms, such as at garage sales or even among friends.
Now, in any firearms transaction, the buyer must go through a background check (for a fee, of course), just as if you were buying the gun from a retailer or at a gun show. There are provisions in the SAFE Act for transferring firearms among family members. It only includes children, stepchildren and spouses (including domestic partners). A grandparent cannot give a gun to a grandchild nor can siblings exchange firearms.
When Gov. Cuomo was celebrating the passage of the SAFE Act he was adamant that it would not affect hunters. This was a misconception. The SAFE Act’s forthcoming background check for ammunition sales were to begin Jan. 15, a year after the legislation was passed. Currently, however, the New York State Police’s database for the background checks is not up and running. Once it is, background checks will begin 30 days later.
There are some questions here as to how this will affect the average gun owner should they be a hunter, a recreational shooter, or both. No one currently has any idea how simple or obtrusive this database will be. If it’s complicated and time-consuming to run a background check there is speculation that many retailers just won’t bother with selling ammunition. And why would they if it takes time away from their regular business? Picking up a box of shells on your way to deer camp will never be the same.
Upon passage, the SAFE Act banned magazines holding more than 10 rounds of ammunition, unless they could be permanently modified. While it allowed possessing a 10-round magazine or clip, it banned putting more than seven rounds in that magazine. Even though the federal judge recently overturned this part of the SAFE Act, calling it “arbitrary,” there are attorneys in this state who say it could be interpreted to only apply to this judge’s district in western New York.
If you own a handgun, even though you went through a background check and fingerprinting when obtaining your permit, you will be required to re-register it every five years under the SAFE Act. The same rule applies to those who obtain a permit to own an assault weapon.
Both NYSRPA and the governor’s office have filed appeals in hopes of overturning the recent federal judge’s ruling. Meanwhile, there is more to the SAFE Act than what we have covered here, including mental health provisions. I encourage anyone interested to read more about it at www.governor.ny.gov/nysafeact/gun-reform.
Dan Ladd is the author of “Deer Hunting in the Adirondacks,” outdoors editor for the Glens Falls Chronicle, columnist for Outdoors Magazine and contributor to New York Outdoor News. Contact him at www.adkhunter.com.