NY gun control package part of 'ongoing crusade'

David Lombardo, Times Union

January 29, 2019

Originally published in Times Union on January 29, 2019.

Legislature takes first major steps in six years

ALBANY — State lawmakers on Tuesday adopted the first major batch of gun-control measures in New York since the SAFE Act of 2013, and pledged they won't wait another six years before revisiting state firearm laws.

The legislation would enable New Yorkers to seek a court order to temporarily remove guns from people who are deemed a danger to themselves or others, ban bump stocks, prohibit teachers from being armed in schools, establish a fund and guidance for local gun buyback programs, and extend the period for completion of background checks to 30 days.

The package was described by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo as part of an "ongoing crusade." He rallied with gun-control advocates in the Capitol on Tuesday morning and is expected to sign all the bills. "I don't want you to think the job is done today," he said.

That sentiment was echoed by legislative leaders, who indicated a willingness to explore an ammunition database, gun-storage requirements, restrictions on 3D gun printing and micro-stamping ammunition.

"It will not be six years between sensible gun laws," said Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, a Westchester County Democrat.

But while most Democrats in the Capitol were celebrating what they described as "common sense" proposals, many of their Republican colleagues bristled at the idea the legislation would make New Yorkers safer. Some described the restrictions as an invasion of the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Sen. Daphne Jordan, a Halfmoon Republican, had described the bills as a "gun grab," and on Tuesday claimed the Democrats misunderstood gun safety and usage.

She faulted Senate Democrats for rushing through the legislative process, claiming the proposals weren't "well thought out." Most of the bills have been passing the Assembly for years, but Jordan questioned the level of scrutiny they had received as one-house proposals.

In response to the possibility of additional gun control measures, she said, "I'm going to go with the 2A people and say what they think, 'that little by little we're going to keep chipping away at your Second Amendment rights until there aren't any.'"

The governor anticipated the "political extremes" would rise up in response to the new restrictions, and described claims that the government is seeking to take guns away as "garbage" and "sensationalism."

"No one wants to take guns from legal owners who are mentally healthy," Cuomo said. "We don't want people who are mentally ill or past felons to have guns. That's all this is."

That controversial new proposal, known as the "Red Flag" bill, would authorize specific people, including teachers, police officers or a person's relative, to petition a court to have an individual's access to guns temporarily suspended if it's determined they're at risk of harming themselves or others.

In Albany on Tuesday to lobby for the bill was Linda Beigel Schulman and Michael Schulman. Their son, Scott Beigel, who had been a teacher at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., was shot and killed during last year's mass shooting there.

Beigel Schulman noted that Florida adopted its own Red Flag law in March, and it has been invoked more than 109 times.

"That's 109 times that they could have prevented a mass shooting," she said. "So if that bill was in place, Parkland wouldn't have happened and my son would still be here."

When the state Senate passed the bill on Tuesday afternoon, the couple embraced in the corner of the chamber before being congratulated by supportive Democratic senators.

Despite the bill's restrictions on who can petition the court, Jordan believes that "anyone that's disgruntled against someone else" could invoke the process and potentially have a person's weapon removed.

There was also vocal Republican opposition during the Senate debate to legislation that will prohibit teachers from carrying guns on school property. Current law allows school districts to determine who can be armed.

Republicans made the case that the decision should be left up to school district officials. They also called the proposal a "solution in search of a problem," noting that Senate Democrats are championing it because President Donald Trump has proposed arming teachers to protect school children.

In recent years, significant gun-safety measures died in the Republican-controlled Senate, although they did allow the SAFE Act to reach the floor in 2013 following the Sandy Hook massacre. Last year, tighter gun restrictions for domestic abusers were also tucked into the budget that passed.

Legislation that would have imposed tougher gun-storage requirements and banned firearms that can't be detected by scanners were pulled from Tuesday's package. Stewart-Cousins indicated they would examine those issues again in the future.

She also expressed her support for revisiting an agreement previously struck by the Senate Republicans and the governor that effectively put an ammunition database — proposed in the SAFE Act — on hold indefinitely. Cuomo top counsel, Alphonso David, said the State Police are working with the office of Information Technology Services to find a "construct that works."