NY SAFE, a year later

Saugerties Fish and Game Club's protest held Saturday, Jan 11 at the club in conjunction with other NY State sportsmen's clubs. (Photo: Alen Fetahi.)

Saugerties Fish and Game Club’s protest held Saturday, Jan 11 at the club in conjunction with other NY State sportsmen’s clubs. (Photo: Alen Fetahi.)

One year after state lawmakers, urged on by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, passed one of the nation’s most restrictive gun laws, impacts from the NY SAFE Act continue to reverberate through the state’s courts, legislature, law enforcement and shooting sports community.

The New York Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act of 2013 got through on the heels of a groundswell of support for new limits on firearms in the wake of the Newtown, Conn. school shooting. With lighting speed and little public debate, lawmakers passed a host of provisions, including limits on the sale of military-style rifles and high-capacity magazines and background checks for ammunition sales, long sought by gun control advocates. Other elements of the NY SAFE Act, including a requirement that mental health professionals report to law enforcement anyone they believe may pose a threat to public safety and stiffer penalties for gun crimes, were added to win support from conservative lawmakers. The finished product was held up by supporters as a model for a new era of gun control that would help prevent mass shootings and reduce the daily toll of gun violence.


But one year after the law’s passage and with some provisions, including mandatory registration of “grandfathered” assault rifles still pending, the law is facing challenges in the courts and, in Ulster County, resistance. A newly galvanized community of gun owners has demonstrated their distaste for the law with everything from a statewide “Shot Heard ’Round New York” event to a quiet refusal to comply with the assault rifle registration requirement.

“This law took honest citizens and turned them into felons,” said one New York gun owner, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “Now I’ve got 16 felonies sitting in my bedroom.”

For the state’s gun owners, the nightmare scenario of police raid teams going door to door grabbing newly illegal firearms has failed to materialize. In the year since it took effect, there have been 1,291 arrests for violation of the law statewide, according to figures from the state Department of Criminal Justice Services. Some 1,041 of those took place in New York City where pre-NY SAFE local gun laws are significantly more restrictive than state statutes. According to the state, 1,155 of the NY SAFE Act arrests consisted of people busted for violating long-established gun laws, like possession of a sawed-off shotgun or unlicensed handgun, that were upgraded from misdemeanors to felonies. Just 48 people have been charged with possessing newly illegal high-capacity magazines; another 26 faced a new felony charge for possessing a firearm on school grounds. In Ulster County, there were just two arrests for SAFE Act violations. In both cases, the arrests were for criminal possession of a firearm. There have been no local arrests for possession of high capacity magazines or sale of banned firearms.

Sheriff advises discretion

The relatively low number of arrests outside of New York City could reflect a reluctance on the part of local law enforcement to strictly enforce elements of the law. The New York State Sheriff’s Association has gone on the record opposing parts of the law, including the bans on “assault weapons” and high-capacity magazines. (The group does support the stiffer penalties for gun crimes and mental health reporting requirements contained in the law). Ulster County Sheriff Paul Van Blarcum said he had advised deputies to use discretion when it came to making arrests of otherwise law-abiding citizens for NY SAFE Act violations.

“The law is the law and we have to enforce it, but we encourage our people to use discretion and common sense,” said Van Blarcum. “You don’t have to write a ticket every time you pull someone over for speeding.”

The more immediate impact, at least locally, stems from gun owners’ fear that the NY SAFE Act is just the first step towards far more restrictive gun laws. In the days and weeks after the law passed, but before the ban on new sales of assault weapons went into effect, customers flooded gun shops buying up AR-15s, combat shotguns and other weapons that would soon be on the banned list. A year later, the focus has shifted to ammunition sales. With a ban on Internet sales already in effect, gun owners are buying ammo faster than manufacturers can produce it or shops can stock it. Common calibers like .22 long rifle and .380 have become nearly impossible to find. At the Gander Mountain store in Hudson Valley Plaza, every Saturday has become Black Friday with customers lining up early to get tickets that can be redeemed for newly delivered ammunition once the doors open.

There are 16 comments

  1. Chris

    it’s not hard to figure this out. if they can create felons out of gun owners they kill two birds with one stone. they won’t be able to own firearms and they won’t be able to vote. it is a dream come true for the left.

  2. Bob

    I see no problem with this law for me as a gun owner. My weapon is a Magnum rifle with a 9 round clip, for which I need only insert 7 with a round in the chamber. I am not hurt by this law and I do not see why anyone needs to have more than 8 rounds in their weapon at one time, unless they are going to have a rampage or shoot an animal to pieces. The whole argument put forth by the opponents is ludicrous and clearly an emotional response. Wake up

  3. David

    Seems like the 7 round limit has been lifted, back to 10 rds. What gets me is the internet purchase of ammo. My last internet purchase contained an item of ammo that was $130 delivered. Gander Mnt. in my area had the same thing and it would have cost me $190. So the law has limited my option to shop for the best price. Ordering on line and having it shipped to a local FFL is not going to work when the FFL sees he is not selling his supply because he’s priced higher. No law states that the FFL has to accept shipment of ammo purchased by the public.

  4. Gary

    You are absolutely correct, Bob, there is no problem at all for you with the SAFE act – for now. NY legislators responsible for passing the SAFE act last year recently said they see it as only a starting point in a new era of gun control and they intend to introduce even more restrictive legislation this year. What will you say if they decide to ban magnum rifles this time? Will you then see the slippery slope of gun control for what it truly is – an effort to ultimately disarm all gun owners. It’s time for ALL gun owners to stick together – no matter what type of firearm you choose to own – before the gun banners divide, conquer, and disarm us all one little step at a time. As you admonish us, Wake up.

  5. Ken

    You got it right Bob. Lots of hysteria over reasonable actions to make us all safer. The slippery slope arguments are laughable. If the doomsday scenario that the NY Safe act is the gateway to happens, there will be support to put it in check. Quite the contrary is happening right now. The gun lobby has put so many loose cannons in the hands of loose cannons that mass shootings have become the new normal and barely get a mention. Had there been such a proactive stance to the slippery slope that started in 1871, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.

  6. Joe

    Lots of hysteria? We are being preemptively treated like criminals.. Reclassification of my favorite 22 is not going to save any lives… Treating responsible gun owners like criminals is a crime in itself. Look up “Bill of Attainder”. , It’s just typical of NY to control everything! Can’t build a shed, can’t have a fire, you can’t do anything in this state but pay taxes and die.

  7. Herman Rivera

    guns owners we have the biggest fight on our hands now we got to stick together ,people have died for this freedom.lets get the nys safe act off the books.stand up and fight for your rights.

  8. ron younge

    The SAFE Act is anything but. Andrew Cuomo doesn’t want to answer tough questions but the fact remains gun crime has increased in the major cities since his overnight passing of this ill thought law. Another side effect of this law is those seeking mental health help have stopped seeking treatment for fear of losing their gun rights with the new reporting process of mental health professionals to the State Police. These people have stopped seeking therapy, counseling and refuse to see their doctors to fill their prescriptions that keep them stable. Cuomo’s desire to upstage the President after Newtown has only made New Yorkers less able to protect themselves against those who pay no mind to law. The media should be all over the governor over the crime statistics. The SAFE Act is a failure and millions lost rights so one man could attempt to make himself look good. The irony is his ratings are falling fast.

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