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NYS SAFE Act: Andrew Cuomo Signs Law Imposing Burdensome Gun Regulations

On January 15 2013, the New York state assembly passed into law the NYS SAFE Act of 2013; or did they? I'll get to that in a moment. First, what is the NYS Secure Firearms and Ammunition Enforcement Act?

In response to the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting in Newtown Connecticut, on January 8, 2013 New York Governor Andrew Cuomo called for comprehensive gun law reform, stating that the existing laws "have more holes than Swiss cheese." His reform package is the NYS SAFE Act. The SAFE Act further enhances the provisions of the NYS "Assault Weapons" ban of 1994, while also enhancing criminal penalties and mental health standards for firearms.

The full text of the SAFE Act can be found here, but to summarize the major provisions;

"Assault weapons" are now classified as having one major characteristic of military style weapons instead of the former two characteristics.

All "assault weapons" including those grandfathered must now be registered with the state police within one year, sold to a firearms dealer, or transferred out of state. These weapons are subject to review by the state police; consequences unknown.

All private sales must go through a firearms dealer and have proof of a NICS background check on the purchaser.

State pistol permits are now only valid for five years (as former permits are not grandfathered), and are subject to review by the State Police Pistol Permits Bureau.

Mental health reporting laws (Kendra's Law) are now strengthened.

Criminal firearms penalties are now strengthened. Additionally, Mark's Law is added, making the killing of a "first responder" punishable by life in prison.

The owner of a firearm may now be held criminally responsible if it falls into the hands of a person who is barred from possessing one under the SAFE Act.

Required documentation of all ammunition sales in the state, and mandatory reporting of “large quantity” sales. (Large quantity is undefined by the law.)

Firearm magazines with a larger than 10 round capacity are banned, those of 10 rounds may only be loaded with seven, and all new magazines may only be manufactured to hold seven.

Altogether, the SAFE Act is a pretty mixed bag of new regulations, further restrictions and general improvements to the current firearms laws of the state. Upon signing the law Cuomo asserted, “Common sense can win. You can overpower the extremists with intelligence and with reason and with common sense.”

Needless to say, firearms owners against the bill, including veterans of the current war on terror, are notably incensed with being compared to extremists. Assemblyman Jim Tedisco, was quoted as saying “Amendment Two — you’re going to turn that into Amendment 1.5 today,” while holding up a copy of the Constitution.

Within hours of the law’s passing, millions of firearms owners across the state now realized that they are illegally in possession of contraband in the form of their current magazines. What to do with these magazines is unknown, as the law does not provide answers. Others, like Budd Schroeder from my home town realized their current firearms are now illegal as “two characteristic assault weapons,” but do not know if they must convert them to pass review with the State Police when registered.

Already, state Senator Kathleen A. Marchione is moving to introduce legislation that will repeal the SAFE Act, while Buffalo Attorney Jim Tesmond, is moving to file a class action lawsuit against the state for passing ex post facto law. He has set out to contact firearms owners across multiple organizations, and is also posting on major firearms forum groups. But the controversy extends beyond that.

According to Article III section 14 of the New York Constitution, “No bill shall be passed or become a law unless it shall have been printed and upon the desks of the members ... at least three calendar legislative days prior to its final passage, unless the governor ... shall have certified ... the facts which in his or her opinion necessitate an immediate vote thereon,  in which case it must nevertheless be upon the desks of the members in final form, not necessarily printed, before its final passage …”

The SAFE Act however, was passed without public review of the 72 hour waiting period. This was done because Cuomo issued a Message of Necessity. The message allows the constitutional mandated process to be circumvented and the measure to be called to immediate vote.

Cuomo has a track record for issuing Messages of Necessity for immediate votes on issues that may not meet the factors required for their use. There is a great deal of speculation within the “gun circle” that Republican state senators and assemblymen may have allowed the bill to speed along on purpose. The belief is, his Message of Necessity could easily be defeated in the state courts, thus striking down the whole law and allowing time for a balanced debate.

Beyond that, early on the morning of January 16, a petition was created on the Whitehouse.gov We the People site, along with an associated Facebook group; asking for Western New York, to secede and form the 51st state. I’ll be keeping an eye on both to see how they progress.

In the end, New York now has the toughest gun control laws in the country, but the questions remains. Will they stand?

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