Hunters and competitive shooters turned out in numbers at a Wednesday, Jan. 30, forum held by police to field questions about the state’s new gun laws, but the most popular query — why the law was adopted in the first place — went largely unanswered.
The forum hosted by state troopers at the Schenectady County Library’s Central Branch, located on Clinton Street in Schenectady, was aimed to provide answers to gun owners’ questions about the Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act, known as NY SAFE Act. Several similar forums were throughout other regions of the state, with Schenectady serving as the Capital District’s location.
Around 100 people attended the forum and applause often followed protests to the new regulations, but the crowd acknowledged their frustration wasn’t at “the messenger.”
Some audience members clearly weren’t supporters of the new law, which bans the sale of “assault style” weapons, limits magazines to seven bullets, requires background checks on all private firearm and ammunition sales and increases penalties for possessing illegal guns.
“How will this law take guns out of the hands of criminals, stop school shootings and save a single life?” asked Steven Baker, followed by the night’s first round of applause.
Baker, a 64-year-old competitive shooter from Knox, said he owns three rifles subject to the assault weapons ban. He’ll be able to keep them under the SAFE Act.
Patrick Hogan, an investigator for the State Police, explained anyone possessing a firearm now classified as an assault weapon can keep it, but must register it with the State Police by April 15, 2014. Such firearms must be re-registered every five years. There is no registration fee.
Hogan explained state legislators’ rationale for the new laws.
“What (lawmakers) are trying to do is lessen the availability of weapons that give an active shooter greater capability,” Hogan said. “Yeah, I know that affects … a lot of lot law abiding citizens, but that tradeoff was made by our elected leaders. We live in a constitutional republic, we elect our leaders and they make the laws.”
Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the SAFE Act into law on Tuesday, Jan. 15, after a speedy trip through the state legislature. The tougher gun laws were the first to be adopted in the nation after the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, in Newtown, Conn. It also followed the recent shooting of two firefighters in Webster.
No lawmakers were at the forum, which was not geared as a debate but more as an information session.
“I would have liked to see some legislators stand up here and answer people’s ‘why’ questions,” Matthew Caron, a Galway resident, said after the forum.
Caron, 32, only started hunting recently and considers it a hobby. The first gun he purchased, which he killed his first deer with six months ago, falls under the ban.
“I was vacation and they banned my deer rifle,” he said.
Both of Caron’s state representatives, Senator Hugh Farley, R-Niskayuna, and Assemblyman Jim Tedisco, R-Glenville, voted against the new gun law. Caron urged the public to vote out anyone approving of the law.
“I view this bill as a referendum on freedom,” Caron said. “Anyone who voted ‘yes’ should be voted out of office — period.”
At the start of the forum, State Police Col. Thomas Fazio stressed police would not be “crashing” into people’s homes and taking their guns. Some people expressed concern about how the state would track ammunition purchases.
One competitive shooter attending the forum said he buys large amounts of ammunition at a time, up to 5,000 rounds. The state will track high-volume ammunition purchases under the law, but the tipping point for when an alert would be triggered isn’t clearly defined.
Tom Capezza, counsel to the State Police, said that is a “fluid” requirement that depends on individual circumstances.
“There is no bar set, no trip wire number, that is going to alert the authorities and say, ‘go check out this guy because he just bought 2,000 rounds,’” State Police Sgt. James Sherman said. “When we see a number associated with an ammunition purchase that we see as highly unusual we are going to want to make sure that the person purchasing that ammunition has only honorable intentions with that ammunition.”
Sherman said if an ammunition purchaser is associated with a firearms club or has a history of competitive shooting, then it wouldn’t concern police.
A website, www.NYSAFEAct.com, was developed to answer frequently asked questions from gun owners about the new law. Individual questions or things not addressed on the website can be asked by calling the hotline at 1-855-529-4867.