Chris Ruger is used to answering questions about guns. An expert gunsmith and proprietor of what he calls Ulster County’s only independent gun shop that isn’t “a kitchen table operation,” Ruger knows firearms from muzzle to butt-plate. As a federally licensed gun dealer he knows intricacies of firearms sales across the country’s patchwork of laws and regulations. Which is why even though the shop is selling guns and ammo faster than it can stock them in advance of the April 15 deadline for sale of assault weapons and high capacity magazines, he appears frustrated on a snowy Monday morning as he attempts to field a steady stream of customer questions.
“If we have a question, we’re supposed to ask the state police,” said Ruger. “But they’re confused too, they were caught off guard like everybody else.”
The confusion felt by Ruger and thousands of gun owners and sellers across the state comes after New York literally overnight, passed the most restrictive set of gun laws in the nation. On Jan. 15 Gov. Andrew Cuomo approved the NY SAFE Act (Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act), which reduces the maximum legal magazine capacity from ten to seven rounds, bans new sales of “assault weapons,” requires registration of military-style weapons grandfathered in under the law and mandatory background checks for ammunition sales, closing a loophole which allowed private sales of weapons without a background check. The law, which passed with bipartisan support, also includes provisions favored by conservatives, including a requirement that mental health providers enter the names of patients who may be a danger to themselves or others into a “no sale” database, and tougher penalties for the criminal use or possession of firearms. The mix of traditionally conservative and liberal approaches to gun violence is one that gun control advocates like Paul Ercolino hope will make New York’s law a model for federal legislation.
“The New York law is a model of what can be done in a bipartisan way,” said Ercolino who joined the gun control group Million Moms March after his brother Steven was killed in a high profile shooting outside the Empire State building in August. “We know it’s going to be very difficult to do on a national level, but that’s what we’re striving for.”
What’s in, what’s out?
While gun control advocates celebrate, opponents of the new restrictions are making their feelings known in some very public forums. Last week a crowd of some 200 gun owners packed the county legislative chambers to denounce the law and a resolution introduced by Democrats Dave Donaldson and Don Gregorius calling for new federal gun restrictions. The resolution was pulled a short time later. Another 500 showed up at the Accord firehouse to rally against the law.
And then there are the questions. State lawmakers have given themselves a year to finalize details on enforcement of the new law. But gun owners, many of whom have valuable collections of firearms that they will be unable to sell in-state once the law becomes effective aren’t inclined to wait for answers. Instead, they come to Ruger and his wife and business partner Marie for guidance on a dizzying array of “what ifs” and “How abouts.” Does a muzzle brake count as a “military feature” under the new assault weapon definition? Yes. Does the WWII vintage M1 Garand with its 8 round internal magazine count as an assault weapon? Unclear. Should I just take all my guns and sell them dirt cheap out of state right now? No.
Meanwhile, the Rugers say they’re already feeling the pinch from the new gun laws. Major firearms manufacturers have stopped shipping to New York for fear of lawsuits. Popular gun manufacturers like Glock and Sig-Sauer don’t make seven-round magazines and may not think it’s worth the effort to do so for the New York market. And if they can’t ship the magazines, Chris Ruger said, they won’t ship the guns, making dozens of popular rifles and handguns unavailable. The de-facto ban, according to Marie Ruger, would apply to .22 caliber target pistols and high-end bolt action hunting and competition rifles as well as the military-style weapons at the center of the national debate over gun control.
“This has been presented as a ban on assault weapons,” said Marie Ruger. “What has not been explained to the public is that this law also deprives people of guns that have never been described as assault weapons by anyone.”