State Senate moves forward gun reforms, chance to sue gun manufactures

Originally published in Albany Times Union

ALBANY — The state Senate, buoyed by its Democratic majority, passed a host of gun reforms Wednesday that lawmakers said are intended to curb rising gun violence and bring justice for those who are the victims of gunfire, particularly from illicit firearms.

The legislation sparked debates on what are the causes for the rise in gun violence, and, in a traditional political split, whether companies or individuals should be held accountable. 

The bills are aimed at reforms related to not only possession and sale of guns, like “ghost guns” that come in parts and without a serial number, but, most notably, at the gun manufacturers. 

Republicans questioned how effective the laws would be and instead favored strengthening law enforcement’s ability to crack down on illicit firearms and increase the penalty for possessing an illegal gun. Conservatives pushed back on the idea that manufacturers of the guns should be potentially on the hook for selling guns that may end up stolen and being a part of a violent crime, but emphasized they were committed to halting gun violence. They view the measures as an unnecessary assault on the Second Amendment and the firearm industry. 

"It simply allows victims of gun violence to have their day in court," state Sen. Zellnor Myrie, D-Brooklyn, said on the Senate floor. Myrie sponsored the gun manufacturer lawsuit bill and argued it has long been a one-way street on who can be held accountable for gun violence.

The reforms are part of a series of bills put forward by Senate Democrats from the New York City area. They championed the reforms Wednesday as part of a late push in the final days of the legislative session. But the legislation must still clear the state Assembly and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo would need to sign the legislation into law.

Myrie’s bill would require the gun industry to both have guidelines and take "reasonable" steps to prevent its guns from being sold unlawfully. It would also prohibit the industry from contributing or creating an environment that “endangers the safety or health of the public through the sale, manufacturing, importing or marketing” of its products.

The state attorney general's office could pursue legal action against the gun industry on behalf of a New York resident or local government, potentially setting up a high-profile lawsuit between the gun manufacturing industry and the state. An individual could also sue the gun industry. 

The bill notes that “illegal firearm violence has disproportionately affected under-served Black and brown neighborhoods in our cities and throughout the state despite stringent state and local laws against the illegal possession of firearms.” A substantial majority of guns used in crimes in New York are purchased outside of the state, according to the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. 

"The so-called justice reform has resulted in a tremendous spike in the use of illegal firearms," Sen. Anthony Palumbo said. The Long Island Republican said the bill would hurt lawful gun owners and lead to a less safe New York.

The reforms come at a time when Albany residents are wrestling with how to address a recent rise in gun violence. Nine people have died in homicides from gun violence in the city this year

Other gun reforms

“Ghost gun” legislation has been moving forward in the Legislature since the start of the calendar year.

In February, ghost gun legislation initially passed the Senate to make it illegal to possess or buy unfinished receivers. The updated legislation, sponsored by Long Island Democrat Sen. Anna Kaplan, would allow law enforcement to prosecute offenders for more serious criminal offenses. A bill by Manhattan Democrat Brad Hoylman would make it illegal to possess a ghost gun, aside from a licensed gunsmith, and to sell them. 

The Senate Democrats also voted to have State Police collect data on the state and locality where a gun used in a crime was purchased, including documenting the legality of the sale and whether the firearm was possessed by someone licensed to have it. Police would also publish quarterly reports and begin collecting data in October, according to the bill by state Sen. Deputy Majority Leader Michael Gianaris, D-Queens.

An additional bill by Gianaris would put forward a 10-day waiting period to purchase a firearm. Republicans were concerned it would make it too difficult to acquire a firearm, noting it would be easier to vote than buy a gun. Democrats agreed: Make it easier to vote, harder to buy a gun.

A far-reaching Center for Firearm Violence Research, sponsored by Sen. Roxanne Persaud, D-Brooklyn, would study gun violence. An executive committee would include criminal justice experts, as well as participants from the health sector, high-ranking university officials and others. The center would advocate for policies to reduce gun violence. 

Another measure proposed by  Sen. Brian Kavanagh, D-Brooklyn, would make it illegal for a person with an active warrant to purchase a gun, and or to sell to a firearm to someone who has an active warrant.