The “Shot Heard Around New York State” was fired at gun clubs – including the Saugerties Fish and Game Club – on the first anniversary of the state’s tough new gun legislation.
“This is a statewide protest against the SAFE Act on the one-year anniversary of its passage,” said Rod and Gun Club member August “Gus” VanEtten.
The name comes from the “shot heard round the world” in Ralph Waldo Emerson’s poem about the opening battle of the American Revolution in Concord, Massachusetts. The call went out, as it so often does these days, on Facebook.
About 40 people participated in the local event at the Saugerties Fish and Game Club on Saturday, where they fired a symbolic shot to protest the state law.
The law’s ban on loading more than seven shots into a weapon’s magazine violates the second amendment right to keep and bear arms and could render firearms now owned by citizens worthless if magazines meeting the law’s limits are not available, VanEtten said. New York State passed the law just over a month after the Sandy Hook school shooting that left 28 people — including 20 elementary school students — dead.
Among the participants in the protest were Ulster County Legislator Mary Wawro and Saugerties Councilman William Schirmer. Schirmer is a member of the club.
Federal law prohibited possession of magazines with a capacity of 11 or more rounds until 2004, when the law expired. New York State law now prohibits the possession of such magazines. However, VanEtten said, the SAFE Act’s limitation on loading more than seven rounds took effect Wednesday, and unlike most laws limiting possession, does not have a “grandfather” provision, which allows possession of illegal items that were purchased before the law was passed.
The change in the law is equivalent to an illegal taking of citizens’ property, as it effectively stops citizens from using legally acquired possessions, VanEtten said. The seven-round limit has been overturned in court, he said, but so-called assault weapons are still illegal under the law.
The law now requires permits to carry weapons be renewed every five years, VanEtten said. Under the previous law, a permit remained in effect unless it was revoked for cause, he said. This provision could effectively bar some citizens from owning guns based on their ability to pay the fee, the amount of which has not been announced, Schirmer said.
Schirmer noted that the Saugerties Town Board is on record as opposing many of the provisions of the law, though the resolution passed last year fell short of what gun owners had hoped for. While he would like to see a stronger resolution, it is not likely that the board would revisit the subject, he said.
One of the major objections to the law is the way it was passed – quickly and without public discussion or even sufficient time for many of the state legislators to read and digest it, VanEtten said. “There was no opportunity for taxpayers to express their opinions before it was passed,” Schirmer noted.
Because it was passed so hastily, the SAFE Act contains contradictory language and is vague on some of the requirements and penalties. However, VanEtten and Schirmer agreed it is unlikely that the law as a whole could be repealed, though they believe some provisions will be voided in the courts.
A major problem with gun control legislation is that law-abiding citizens will be limited by its provisions while criminals will not, Schirmer said. Weapons can be obtained illegally on the streets in New York City or can be obtained legally in states with loose gun control laws and brought back to New York. The result of gun control laws is to disarm law abiding citizens while leaving lawbreakers armed, he said.
Provisions that specify that some types of weapons – so-called assault weapons – are to be treated differently in the law from others make no sense, VanEtten said. While the media highlight the relatively few mass murders committed with such weapons, they are not the weapon used in the many incidents of gun violence that do not make the front pages.
Gun Club members agreed that some provisions of the law are worthwhile, including stronger checks on gun ownership by people who are mentally unstable and increased penalties for criminal offenses if guns are involved. In fact, Schirmer said, he would support stronger penalties for the use of a gun in commission of a crime than the SAFE Act specifies.
The SAFE Act is being challenged by a group of organizations and individuals, including The Second Amendment Foundation, SCOPE (Shooters Committee on Political Education) and Long Island Firearms LLC. VanEtten said he expects many more lawsuits resulting from the law.