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NYS Legislature passes legislation designed to protect New Yorkers from gun violence

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Tue, Jan 29th 2019 05:45 pm

The New York State Legislature on Tuesday passed legislation designed to prevent and reduce gun violence in New York. The legislative package includes bills to keep guns out of the hands of those who have demonstrated they pose a risk, banning bump stocks, and creating a buyback program for illegal guns.

“In 2017 alone, almost 40,000 people were killed by a gun in the U.S., 772 of those happened here in New York. I refuse to accept that as the cost of unfettered access to guns,” New York State Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said. “The Assembly majority has a long history of fighting to keep weapons out of the hands of dangerous individuals. And today, along with our Senate colleagues, we will pass a package of common-sense reforms to address the root causes of gun violence in our communities, and make New York a safer place for everyone.”

Codes committee Chairman Joseph Lentol said, “The legislation we pass today will help keep weapons suited for war off the streets and out of the hands of people who are a threat to themselves and others. I am proud of the comprehensive set of bills that address everything from background checks to bump stocks and the creation of a gun buyback program.”

Red Flag Bill

The legislative package includes the “Red Flag Bill,” which would allow a court to issue an extreme risk protection order (ERPO), prohibiting a person who is determined to be a threat to themselves or others from purchasing or possessing a firearm for up to one year (A.2689). The petitioner, who could be a family member, law enforcement officer or school administrator, would be required to file a sworn application describing the circumstances and justification for the request. Following an initial hearing, the court may grant a temporary order if there is reasonable cause to believe the individual is likely to engage in conduct that would result in serious harm to him or herself or others. At a subsequent hearing, the court may issue a final order, which would last for one year.

Assemblywoman Jo Anne Simon said, “Too often, we are able to see the warning signs that an individual close to us poses a risk of serious harm to themselves or to others, but lack a mechanism to prevent unthinkable tragedies such as interpersonal gun violence or suicide. This legislation will give family members, law enforcement and certain school personnel the tools they need to prevent these kinds of tragedies before they happen. Today, we took a stand with the brave students and families in New York; Parkland, Florida; and across the country who are calling on us to act to prevent gun violence.”

Ensuring Background Checks

Two measures included in the legislative package would ensure comprehensive background checks for gun owners in New York.

The first measure would establish a waiting period of up to 30 days before a gun can be sold to an individual who has not cleared a background check (A.2690). Under current federal law, gun dealers must conduct a background check through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System before selling a firearm. The NICS system responds with “proceed,” “denied” or “delayed.” While the vast majority of background checks are immediately marked “proceed” or “denied,” transactions that receive a “delayed” response must be completed after three business days if no additional “denied” response is received. In these cases, the FBI continues to investigate whether the person is an eligible purchaser beyond the three-day period, even though the person has likely already been sold the firearm.

According to the FBI, more than 15,000 gun sales went forward between 2010 and 2014 to individuals who were prohibited from purchasing or possessing a firearm, because the determination whether to deny or proceed could not be made within three business days.

“Despite all our progress, it is still simply too easy for guns to fall into the wrong hands,” Assemblywoman Amy Paulin said. “My bill will build on our strong gun laws by ensuring that law enforcement has sufficient time to complete a background check investigation, without impinging on the rights of law-abiding citizens. Giving law enforcement time to do its job to keep guns out of the wrong hands ought to be an issue we can all be united around.”

The second background check measure would require out-of-state citizens who have homes in New York and apply for a firearm license to waive the confidentiality of their home state mental illness records (A.1213). This would allow New York state law enforcement to review those records when considering a firearm license application in the same manner that they review the New York mental health records of applicants.

“If you want to own a gun in New York state, you should have to prove that you are fit to do so by New York’s standards,” Assemblywoman Pamela Hunter said. “Closing this loophole will allow our law enforcement officers to fully do their job, and help keep our friends and neighbors safe from gun violence.”

In the State Senate, an extreme risk protection orders bill, S.2451, was introduced by Sen. Brian Kavanagh; meanwhile, the Effective Background Check Act bill, S.2374, was introduced by Deputy Majority Leader Michael Gianaris; and the out of state mental health records bill, S.2438, was introduced by Sen. Anna Kaplan.

Keeping Children Safe

Also included in the package is a bill that would prohibit a school administrator from arming teachers or other school employees in K-12 schools in New York (A.1715-A). Under current law, guns are prohibited on school grounds unless authorized by a school administrator. The bill would ban administrators from allowing guns in schools with the exception of school resource officers, law enforcement or security guards.

“In order to address the scourge of gun violence in our schools, it is critical that we enact common-sense gun legislation while simultaneously increasing access to mental health treatment. A proactive approach is necessary to save lives and reduce the detrimental impact the imminent threat of violence has on our children,” Assemblywoman Judy Griffin said. “Teachers are trained to educate students, not to be armed with firearms to protect them. Arming educators is not a viable solution, since it increases the risk of accidental injury or death while creating an atmosphere of fear and stress.”

In the State Senate, the partner bill, S.101A, was introduced by Sen. Todd Kaminsky.

Getting Illegal Guns & Modifications Off the Street

In 2017, bump stocks were used in a mass shooting in Las Vegas to fire 500 bullets in under a minute. Legislation included in this New York package would prohibit the possession, manufacture, transport, shipment and sale of devices like the bump stock that accelerate the firing rate of firearms so they operate in a similar manner as machine guns. Banned devices include trigger cranks and other rapid-fire modification devices (A.2684). Under current state law, attaching such a device to a firearm is illegal because, once attached, the weapon is considered a machine gun. However, there is no restriction on the sale or possession of bump stocks or other similar devices that are not attached to a firearm.

“Law enforcement has been resoundingly clear: There is no legitimate reason for any individual to possess a device that is capable of turning a legal, semiautomatic firearm into a fully functioning machine gun,” Assemblywoman Patricia Fahy said. “Yet, the Federal Department of Justice estimates that 520,000 bump stocks have been sold just since 2010. Although it is technically illegal to attach a bump stock to a firearm in New York, there is no law that prohibits the manufacturing, sale, possession or transport of these devices. My legislation would close this dangerous loophole and help prevent tragedies like the one that took place in Las Vegas.”

The corresponding State Senate bill, S.2448, was introduced by Sen. Luis Sepulveda.

The legislative package also creates the municipal gun buyback program (A.2685). To be administered by the New York State Police, the program would allow individuals to report and turn in illegal firearms. Those participating would be immune from certain criminal possession charges, and would be able to collect a monetary reward.

“Every gun we get off the streets is a gun that cannot be used to commit a crime. Gun buyback programs are proven to be effective methods of keeping communities safe from gun crimes by encouraging individuals to relinquish their guns in anonymity and without the fear of prosecution. It is vital that the state expand this successful model,” Assemblywoman Linda B. Rosenthal said. “Passage of this legislation will help New York state to build on the nation-leading gun safety work we have already accomplished.”

The State Senate bill, S.2449, was introduced by Sen. Shelley Mayer.

“Today, New York’s lawmakers demonstrated true leadership by passing sensible, life-saving measures to prevent gun violence across our state,” said Rebecca Fischer, executive director of New Yorkers Against Gun Violence. “Our leaders understand that New Yorkers need more than condolences to keep our neighborhoods, homes and schools safe. We need to keep guns away from people in crisis, not guns in our classrooms. We applaud the majority leader and speaker, the bill sponsors and our broad coalition fighting to save lives. Together, we helped push these bills across the finish line.”

Kris Brown, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said, “Thanks to the ongoing efforts of New York's elected officials, residents of the state are already protected by some of the country's strongest gun safety laws. But gun violence is a complex epidemic that requires a multifaceted policy response, and we're pleased to see the State Legislature continue pushing for further action. From expanding Brady Background Checks to enacting extreme risk protection orders, this is a comprehensive and ambitious package that will serve as a model for the nation. We're proud to support these important bills, and we look forward to the governor signing them into law as soon as possible.”

Wendy Burch, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness-New York State, said, “A central part of the mission of the National Alliance on Mental Illness-New York State is reducing suicide. The U.S. Department of Justice estimates that 60 percent of firearm deaths are attributed to suicide. This is why NAMI-NYS urges New York state to enact extreme risk protection orders to remove guns from the homes of people with mental illness during times of crisis. All too often, the concerns of families are not taken into account despite the fact that they regularly have more insight on their loved one’s condition than the individual, especially during times of crisis. This would be one of the few laws that empower families and caregivers to step in and help their loved ones during their most vulnerable times.”

Gianaris said, “Common-sense gun safety reform will save lives, period. Stronger background checks will keep guns away from dangerous people. I am proud to have written some of America’s toughest gun safety laws and to be part of the new New York Senate, which will keep our families and schools safe.”

Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said, “It seems like every day we wake up to headlines of another mass shooting, another horrific gun crime. The madness has to stop. It is our responsibility to protect our communities, our schools, and to keep all of New Yorkers safe. Following years of inaction on common sense gun safety legislation, we are finally going to lead the way and serve as an example to the nation on smart gun laws.”

Also in response to today’s passage of bills in the New York State Legislature, Attorney General Letitia James released the following statement: “Every loss of life and injury from gun violence is a devastating reminder of our shared responsibility to get firearms out of the wrong hands. Today, by strengthening our already tough gun control laws, New York has taken another step to push back on this ever-present threat. But we cannot stop with this victory, we must continue to fight against the scourge of gun violence. My office is committed to prosecuting those who continue seeking profit from the business of death and to sustaining a proactive approach that will continue taking lethal weapons off of our streets.”

Assemblyman Angelo Morinello was not in favor of the Assembly’s vote. He said, “Today, upstate New Yorkers are once again being penalized, as the Assembly passed legislation which will further infringe on our Second Amendment rights. Most gun owners in my district own firearms for hunting purposes or as a means to defend and protect their families. Living in the United States is a privilege that allows us to feel protected from terrible events occurring around the world, but our Second Amendment rights serve as a safety precaution in case our citizens ever do face dangerous situations. This year, I’ll continue fighting for our constitutional rights to ensure gun owners in our district can continue living by the values and customs they’ve always enjoyed and respected.”

On the State Senate side, Sen. Robert Ortt also expressed dismay. In a press release, he said, “Once again, Democrats have chosen to target the law-abiding gun owners of our state in order to push a political narrative instead of actually addressing the real crux of gun violence. Nine out of 10 crimes committed with guns are done with illegal firearms. However, Democrats continually neglect these statistics and refuse to go after these criminals. Instead, they choose to go after the law-abiding citizens of New York and assault our Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms. These measures range from the unnecessarily duplicative to the theoretical and blatantly unconstitutional.

“I swore an oath to support and defend the constitution, and I question whether or not some of my colleagues have even read it.”

The gun bills now to go to Gov. Andrew Cuomo for his approval.

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