State legislature passes strongest gun control bills since SAFE Act; North Country reps react


PLATTSBURGH | The state legislature on Tuesday passed the strongest set of gun control measures since the SAFE Act. 

The Democratic-led Senate and Assembly approved the measures largely along party lines.

Teachers are now banned from carrying guns on campuses, a proposal floated by gun groups and President Donald Trump following the Parkland, Florida shooting last February.

Bump stocks like those used in the 2017 Las Vegas shooting that killed 58 and left hundreds injured have been prohibited, and the waiting period for background checks has been extended to up to 30 days.

A “red flag” law now allows family members and school staff to call for the evaluation of those identified as potentially dangerous. If deemed a threat, a judge could order the seizure of their firearms.

The new laws also create a buyback program to remove illegal firearms from the streets.

School resource officers would still be permitted to carry guns. 

Senate Republicans sought to include an amendment that would have boosted funding for additional resource officers, but those measures were defeated, reported Capital Tonight.

CUOMO: NEW YORK LEADS

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has endorsed the measures and said he will sign them into law.

The new laws show New York is leading the nation on combating gun violence, said Cuomo, who defended the laws as a continuation of the SAFE Act, the gun control legislation passed in the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre in 2013.

He said doing so was the “smartest, best thing I have done.”

“In my eulogy, I hope it’s in the first paragraph,” Cuomo told WAMC Northeast Public Radio on Monday.

Gun control advocates praised the legislation.

“Our leaders understand that New Yorkers need more than condolences to keep our neighborhoods, homes, and schools safe,” said Rebecca Fisher, executive director of New Yorkers Against Gun Violence, in a statement.

Gun advocacy groups pushed back, contending government overreach.

“This is a gun grab and nothing else,” said Tom King, president of the New York State Rifle and Pistol Association. “None of these laws are going to make the people of New York state any safer. None of these laws are going to be enforced.”

King pointed at the package of reproductive health laws signed into law last week and accused Democrats of hypocrisy.

Advocates contend the new measures further protect reproductive rights jeopardized by a Republican-led White House and flurry of conservative judicial appointments.

But critics contend the laws promote abortion.

“I think that it’s a very disingenuous move by the Democrats who are claiming all they care about is protecting people and saving lives,” King told The Sun.

LITTLE: LEGISLATION IS ‘FAR-REACHING’

State Sen. Betty Little (R-Queensbury) said she was dismayed at “hectic pace far-reaching legislation” pushed through with little public debate.

“Given the Democrats’ complete control of Albany, it isn’t surprising they are moving in this direction on issues such as this,” said Little in a statement. “There’s no interest in hearing the opposing view. The decision has been made.”

Little said the Second Amendment and other constitutional rights “deserve more respect and consideration than we have seen by downstate lawmakers intent on hurriedly passing these bills.”

Assemblyman Billy Jones (D-Chateaugay) voted against six of the eight bills, but supported banning bump stocks and a bill ensuring out-of-state residents comply to same background check regulations as New York residents. 

“The other proposals put undue hardship on responsible gun owners, or were already written into New York state laws and that is why I voted in the negative,” Jones said in a statement.

Jones called the raft of bills “an attempt to shove more unnecessary mandates down the throats of responsible gun owners,” and said many of the measures were needlessly duplicative of existing statutes. 

“We can’t ignore the threat posed by reckless, unstable individuals who want to harm others,” he said. “But I also know that most gun owners take important precautions and take safety very seriously and I will continue to fight to make sure we protect both our families and our right to bear arms.”

Assemblyman Dan Stec (R-Queensbury) voted against six out of seven of the bills, the exception being the measure governing out-of-state background checks.

“They didn’t do a lot to move the ball on improving public safety as much as impacting and infringing on Second Amendment rights,” Stec told The Sun. 

The state already has some of the strictest gun laws in the nation, he said, and many of the laws being considered are redundant.

Furthermore, he said the “red flag” bill falls short of due process, and local school boards are best positioned to decide if they should allow teachers to carry firearms or not. 

“The vast amount of feedback from my constituents said they opposed (the laws),” he said.

‘NOTHING BUT GOOD’

Cuomo, a Democrat, acknowledged the political damage incurred through passage of the SAFE Act, which has continued to anger gun rights groups, law enforcement agencies and sportsman groups in upstate New York.

“I alienated people in this state I never got back,” he said on Tuesday at a press conference flanked by survivors of gun violence.

But the governor dismissed ever-swirling claims that the state was seeking to seize firearms as “all garbage, all sensationalism meant to frighten people.”

“Hunters, sportspeople still have their guns,” Cuomo said on Tuesday. “It’s done nothing but good.”

And he has long lamented mass shootings which he said are entirely preventative with “common sense” measures.

RED FLAG BILL

The red flag bill allows teachers or family members to report those suspected of having mental health issues and may be a threat to ask a judge to order their firearms be confiscated.

“No one wants to take guns from legal owners who are mentally healthy,” Cuomo said.

Linda Beigel Schulman on Tuesday held up a photo of her son, Scott Schulman, a teacher who was killed at Parkland massacre that left 17 people dead.

Teachers and students, she said, knew the perpetrator posed a threat, but were unable to act.

“Parkland would have never happened if they had a red flag law,” she said. “Scott’s murder will now save lives.”

Fischer said the new law contains due process: the standard of evidence for seizing firearms is “extremely high,” she said.

“Those built-in protections are very necessary to emphasize,” Fischer said at the news conference.

Cuomo said he expected legal challenges to the new law, noting the rightward-tilt of the Supreme Court.

But challenges would put the court in a “impossible, hypocritical position” because a ruling would circumvent states rights, he said.

Democrats control both the Senate and Assembly, which has allowed for the passage of long-bottlenecked progressive legislation this month.

Cuomo also signed into law bills that ban gender discrimination, allow early voting and make it easier for victims of childhood sexual abuse to bring civil litigation against institutions and abusers.

“All of these bills, we are the inverse of where Washington is,” he said. “They are going extreme conservative and we are going progressive.”





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