Massive noncompliance with SAFE Act


In January 2013, as the nation still mourned the Sandy Hook massacre, New York State enacted one of the nation’s strictest gun control laws. But three and a half years later, state records obtained after a lengthy court battle show that a key provision of the New York Safe Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act — mandatory registration of assault weapons — has been roundly ignored by gun owners in Ulster County and across the state.

The NY SAFE Act defines assault weapons as any rifle, pistol or shotgun that uses a detachable magazine and has one of a laundry list of “military features,” including flash suppressors, folding stocks, bayonet lugs and heat shields. The law banned new sales of assault weapons in the state and required current owners to register the firearms with state police.

In 2014, attorney and policy analyst Paloma Capanna filed suit on behalf of Rochester-based radio host Bill Robinson seeking data on NY SAFE Act compliance: specifically, how many assault weapons had actually been registered in the state.


Cuomo administration officials first ignored, then denied Robinson’s Freedom of Information Act request. But, on June 22, following two years of litigation, state police released the information based on a court decision which found that while the law forbade the disclosure of the actual registration forms, nothing precluded the release of aggregate data.

That data shows massive noncompliance with the assault weapon registration requirement. Based on an estimate from the National Shooting Sports Federation, about 1 million firearms in New York State meet the law’s assault-weapon criteria, but just 44,000 have been registered. That’s a compliance rate of about 4 percent. Capanna said that the high rate of noncompliance with the law could only be interpreted as a large-scale civil disobedience, given the high level of interest and concern about the law on the part of gun owners.

“It’s not that they aren’t aware of the law,” said Capanna. “The lack of registration is a massive act of civil disobedience by gun owners statewide.”

Opposition to the SAFE Act has been widespread across upstate New York, where 52 of the state’s 62 counties, including Ulster, have passed resolutions opposing the law. Upstate police agencies have also demonstrated a marked lack of enthusiasm for enforcing the ban on assault weapons and large-capacity magazines. According to statistics compiled by the state Department of Criminal Justice Services, there have been just 11 arrests for failure to register an otherwise-legal assault weapon since the SAFE Act took effect in March 2013 and 62 for possession of a large capacity magazine. In Ulster County, where 463 assault weapons have been registered, there have been just three arrests for possession of large-capacity magazines and none for failure to register an assault weapon. Ulster County Sheriff Paul VanBlarcum has been a vocal critic of the law; he said he believed large numbers of Ulster County gun owners had chosen to ignore the registration requirement.

“We’re a rural county with a lot of gun enthusiasts,” said VanBlarcum. “So [463] sounds like a very low number.”

Signs at last year's O+ Festival supported the SAFE Act. (Photo: Dan Barton)

Signs at last year’s O+ Festival supported the SAFE Act. (Photo: Dan Barton)

VanBlarcum said he had advised deputies to use their discretion when it came to making arrests for SAFE Act violations like unregistered assault weapons and he had no plans to undertake proactive enforcement measures.

“We are not actively out looking to enforce any aspect of the SAFE Act,” said VanBlarcum.

Capanna said the registration debacle pointed to bigger issues with the SAFE Act: while federal firearms laws and the bureaucracy that enforces them date back a century, New York was effectively trying to create an entirely new regulatory framework from scratch. Capanna pointed to a SAFE Act requirement for background checks on ammunition sales as an example of regulatory overreach. The mandate has gone unenforced because the federal database used to screen gun buyers cannot be legally used for any other purpose. The state, meanwhile, has failed to come up with its own database to track ammunition sales.

Capanna added that the state police, who are charged with enforcing the registration requirements, are a police agency, not a regulatory agency with experience interpreting and enforcing complex rules governing lawful activities like firearms and ammunition sales.

“Cuomo would like to mimic the federal government,” said Capanna. “But that’s a substantial, extremely advanced system and he’s doing it as a startup, I think that led to a lot of fumbles along the way.”

There are 34 comments

  1. nopolitics

    Bulldumpers and hogwash that this is a ‘startup” and that is an excuse. Police agencies are there to enforce the law. This is a law. You can look it up. Police and sheriff’s departments are supposed to be trained to enforce the law and– not selectively. This is at best selective enforcement. If people don’t like the law, they can work to change it. That’s the way it’s supposed to work–not with “we’ll enforce the kinds of laws we agree with and ignore the ones we don’t agree with.” “BS!!” on this sheriff!!!
    So I think really when we think of the nonsense with the tracking down of warrants at DSS, that was a sort of selective enforcement focus also. Political beliefs ought not enter into things, but obviously they do here. The sheriff in fact needs to run for higher office so he can help make the laws he agrees with, and leave the JOB of sheriff to someone dedicated to law ENFORCEMENT. And the same goes for every other police agency in this state that refuses to enforce this law.
    Since the Sheriff refuses to enforce the law, his agency then is not really a part of this state and ought to be declared outside the law itself, and has in fact, without an official declaration, SECEDED from New York State. A sad price to pay for more esteem and lines in “The Lincoln Eagle.”

    1. Sumner

      Yet it’s fine when Obama and DHS ignore immigration laws, congress and the constitution?

      Yea, this is a great example of “you reap what you sow”

    2. Don Smith

      Officer … You are so full of crap! You think you are special and that you are exempt. This will bite you in the ass too. I hope soon. Cuomo already said that he did not care if 98% of New Yorkers or the majority of counties did not support it. He is a lying scumbag tyrant! Do you feel like your right arm wants to go out and do the Nazi salute? You should! This was not done democratically but was surreptitiously done in the middle of the night.

      1. Jim burlingame

        Lol so you want to call people nazis that wont enforce dictatorial laws? I am a extremely safety oriantated responsible owners of both ar and ak style rifles and i keep them and my hi cap mags under lock and key since i am a law abiding man i refuse to ever give mine up no matter what the fed government says nor will they be registered cause just so some overreaching power drunk regime track me so eventually they will come take them once they finally completely ban them after people like you help them take away our rights slowly finding more reasons to make gun laws tighter and tighter until theres a complete ban on them! Im sorry if this is offensive but i dont care….F— YOU AND ALL THE SOCIALIST ANTI GUN IDIOTS THAT WANT TO HANG UP THEIR RIGHTS FOR FALSE SECURITY!…..p.s not everyone that has a different opinion than you are nazis or racist so stop playing that card and trying demonize people that draw a line in the sand and stand their ground against government overreach cause i promise people like me are the ones that own these types of weopons and we are the majority good luck forcing millions of law abiding citizens to just give up their heritage and submit to a gov that wont do its job to protect us and our children. The us gov was put in place to protect the rights of the people nothing more! Its our duty to limit that power and regulate it when it goes to far and attempts to piss on the constitution WE WILL REMAIN A CONSTITUTIONAL REPUBLIC people willin to sacrifice thei liberties for security shall have neither…ben franklin

        1. Cliven L.

          You completely misunderstood what Ben Franklin said.

          Ben’s comment was specifically a reference to the Penn family, which owned massive amounts of land here, and tried to evade a tax to help support the colonial side of The French and Indian War.

          The Penns circumvented the democratically-elected local legislature by having the colonial governor negate their tax in favor of a token small stipend that they would pay one time, and that was it. Franklin’s comment was that the Penn family had overridden the sovereignty of local democracy, therefore infringed upon the Liberties of the people, in order that they could “purchase a little temporary security”, meaning that they could fob off their obligations to the people and not pay to support the country in time of need.

          That is the actual meaning of what Franklin said, not what you are claiming: the quote you wrote of, was actually simply an admonition for the rich to pay their g-damn’d taxes.

    3. Buck Jordan

      Sodomy is against the law also but that certainly is not enforced, along with many other laws . . .

  2. Alan Chwick

    Mr. Jesse J Smith

    You should also look at how the Cuomo administration improperly implements the NY SAFE Act. Such as, but not limited to, the fact that the law had a registration drop-dead date that all “assault rifles” (AWs) needed to be registered by. But the registration platform is still active and they are telling people that they can still register their AWs.

    I can only guess/assume that the Cuomo administration, due to the failed NY SAFE Act registration response, that they are still trying to get the numbers up.

    On a side note, I think, as an FFL in Nassau County, that the NSSF 1-million rifles number is far short, as many simple rifles, such as Ruger 10/22s, fell into the AWs category. I would place the number at better than 3-million. I derived this number by reviewing our bound books, back 22-years, and extrapolated the numbers based upon what I know about other FFLs in NYS.

  3. bob grifhunter

    The rifles were rarely used in crime before the SAFE act and have hardly been criminally used since. The State has done nothing to heighten safety, has wasted a ton of time and money, all for some political theater to enhance the stature of politicians. The SAFE act has made felons out of historically law abiding, otherwise righteous Americans whose only desire was to be left alone. Every idiot hell bent on mass killing has an infinite array of options to cause mayhem, and will never be deterred by mag limits, neutered rifles and ammo sales registration. Civil rights be damned.

    1. One that cares

      Tell that to kids at Newtown. Do we need one local to prove the stupidity of these rifles? They were created to kill people not be a extension on one’s penis or to hunt.

      1. Juan Carlos de Burbon

        Actually, I use a Ruger AR-556 to hunt groundhogs, coyote, and fox; all are considered pests to farmers. So, no, you are wrong in your assumption.

        And since both of my girls hunt too, are their ARs an extension of their penises?

        I really don’t understand your comment. It’s both misogynistic and ignorant.

    2. Don Smith

      Less than 3% of all crimes involve a rifle or a shotgun. So why the SAFE ACT. Because Gov. Cuomo is an idiot who wants to say “ME FIRST” … “LOOK AT ME” after Sandyhook. This idiot, Governor Cuomo, is the most corrupt public official in the last 100 years! Look at all of his friends and associates and close employees… all being tried…

    1. Don Smith

      Laws for you and me… not for the elites… BTW, Bloomberg has a NYC pistol permit! Try getting one of those like Mayor Everytown. What a bunch of hypocrites !

  4. freedom

    There was a time when Americans believed in freedom.

    The US is dying from a million cuts. Part of the reason the USA is a nanny police state now is that whenever there is a problem, the kneejerk reaction in the US is to call for a new law.

    Nanny state laws are not the best solution, however. Nanny state laws lead to more laws, higher fines, and tougher sentences. Thirty years ago, DWI laws were enacted that led to DWI checkpoints and lower DWI levels. Seatbelt laws led to backseat seatbelt laws, childseat laws, and pet seatbelt laws. Car liability insurance laws led to health insurance laws and gun liability laws. Smoking laws that banned smoking in buildings led to laws against smoking in parks and then bans against smoking in entire cities. Sex offender registration laws led to sex offender restriction laws and violent offender registration laws.

    Nanny state laws don’t make us safer, either. Nanny state laws lead people to be careless since they don’t need to have personal responsibility anymore. People don’t need to be careful crossing the street now because drunk-driving has been outlawed and driving while using a cellphone is illegal. People don’t investigate companies or carry out due diligence because businesses must have business licenses now.

    The main point of nanny state laws is not safety. The main purposes of more laws are control and revenue generation for the state.

    Another reason laws are enacted is because corporations give donations to lawmakers to stifle competition or increase sales.

    Many laws are contradictory, too. Some laws say watering lawns is required, while other laws say watering lawns is illegal.

    Many nanny state laws that aim to solve a problem can be fixed by using existing laws. If assault is already illegal, why do we need a new law that outlaws hitting umpires?

    Nanny state laws are not even necessary. If everything was legal would you steal, murder, and use crack cocaine? Aren’t there other ways to solve problems besides calling the police? Couldn’t people educate or talk to people who bother them? Couldn’t people be sued for annoying behavior? Couldn’t people just move away? Even if assault was legal, wouldn’t attackers risk being killed or injured, too? Do people have consciences? Having no laws doesn’t mean actions have no consequences.

    If there is no victim, there is no crime.

    We don’t need thousands of laws when we only need 10.

    Freedom is not just a one way street. You can only have freedom for yourself if you allow others to have it.

    Should swimming pools be banned because they are dangerous? Hammers? Bottles? Rocks? Energy drinks? Pillows?

    Where does it end?

    Control freaks might get angry when a neighbor owns three indoor cats, but what did the neighbor take from them? Why should this be illegal? Is outlawing cats something a free country should do? Doesn’t banning everything sound like the opposite of freedom?

    Instead of getting mad at people who like freedom, why don’t people realize that freedom is a two way street?

    If you allow others to paint their house purple then you can, too.

    If you allow others to own a gun then you can, too.

    If you allow others to swear then you can, too.

    If you allow others to gamble then you can, too.

    Who wants to live in a prison?

    Think. Question everything.

  5. Joseph Kiesznoski

    I believe the safe act is illegal and unconstitutional, And will not comply, Family was at AUSCHWITZ…….And remember Gun Control to well.

  6. Steve

    Ignore it. Don’t obey it. Don’t cooperate with it. Don’t cooperate in any way with any police that enforce it. Let the CLEOs in those jurisdictions know that enforcement of this law makes them the enemy and they can expect zero cooperation in any matter whether related to the law or not. See one of their cops getting stomped to a bloody pulp, oops sorry can’t help you, no didn’t see who did it even though I was standing three feet away. If called to sit on a jury that tries a case based on it, politely sit through the case, then simply refuse to convict. Harass the politicians that created it. Call them 20 times a week at 3 am at HOME to voice objections to the law and to them remaining in office. In short: Make their lives miserable, they are scum trying to jail you for owning an inanimate object, they richly deserve all that you heap upon them.

  7. Steven L Fornal

    “The Nazis adopted a new gun law in 1938. According to an analysis by Bernard Harcourt, a professor at Columbia University School of Law, it loosened gun ownership rules in several ways.

    “It deregulated the buying and selling of rifles, shotguns and ammunition. It made handguns easier to own by allowing anyone with a hunting license to buy, sell or carry one at any time. (You didn’t need to be hunting.) It also extended the permit period from one year to three and gave local officials more discretion in letting people under 18 get a gun.”

    As for “Steve”: You kinda display the attitude that concerns people. That you own a gun is troublesome. You seem to have a lot of aggression pent up.

    1. The Rest of The Story

      I love the copy and paste of that Harcourt analysis…except you left out the very next portion of that article:

      The regulations to implement this law, rather than the law itself, did impose new limits on one group: Jews.

      On Nov. 11, 1938, the German minister of the interior issued “Regulations Against Jews Possession of Weapons.” Not only were Jews forbidden to own guns and ammunition, they couldn’t own “truncheons or stabbing weapons.”

      In addition to the restrictions, Ellerbrock said the Nazis had already been raiding Jewish homes and seizing weapons.

      Post all the information, not just the section that supports your opinion. The Fact is that while gun ownership policies became looser for “ordinary” citizens, they did in fact ban the possession and purchase for an entire group of citizens. So in effect….YES…Hitler and the Third Reich DID disarm the Jews. Along with other special interest paramilitary groups operating within the country.

      1. Cliven L.

        Except that your post left out one major element of the argument: Jews were reclassified as non-citizens, since they were not German.
        Being that Germany was, in fact, an ethnostate, there was some actual cause, legally, to make that claim, in their case, although I it was reprehensible of them to do so.
        In the United States, which is not, never was, and hopefully never will be an ethnostate, no matter what white supremacists attempt, specific cultural groups are not presently being decitizenised, although broad strides in that direction are being made by the Trump Administration, through loopholes in the Naturalization laws.
        If non-citizens tried to get weapons in the US, I guarantee you there would be an uproar amongst conservatives and liberals alike, though for different reasons.

      2. Steven L. Fornal

        “The Fact is that while gun ownership policies became looser for “ordinary” citizens…” THAT was my point. Nothing to do with Jews in Nazi Germany.

  8. M. Labe

    Just a quick tip as a former inmate in NewYorkistan. There is no constructive intent in the SAFE act as written. If your upper is not attached to your lower it is not a rifle, regardless of the features each may possess separately.

    If you are leaving to a free state check your tires and transport according to FOPA requirements. FOPA is an affirmative defense. IANAL.

    Also have a big cup of Shut The Hell Up about what you may or may not have. Big Brother is watching and any electrictronic communication is by default insecure.

    Keep your powder dry.

  9. Terry

    Not only did I not register my Sporting Guns I bought a NY Compliant AR and built another.
    High Capacity mags, what mags I don’t have to show you my mags.

  10. Ed James

    The US Constitution is the final word on the legitimacy of our laws. It says “The right to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” So when Cuomo rams through legislation that unambiguously infringes on citizens’ Constitutional rights, how can anyone not agree with law enforcement officers (who took an oath to uphold the Constitution) for not enforcing unconstitutional laws? It’s not about “picking and choosing”… it’s about compliance with the ultimate law of the land: the Constitution. Unfortunately, VanBlarkum’s successor, Juan Figueroa, doesn’t share that view.

  11. Maximas

    This article needs to be refreshed. I don’t feel safe in many areas. In NYC the cops are interested in giving speeding tickets or illegal searches of your car. Drugs first weapons second. Its detain first ,search with out just cause or warrant. Then ticket to make $300.00 dollars or more for some vehicle bullshit.

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