“There’s more to do” “Hay más por hacer”

Originally published in “There’s more to do” on June 18, 2022.

New gun laws signed for New York State / Firmadas nuevas leyes de armas para el estado de Nueva York

“It just keeps happening. Shots ring out, flags come down, and nothing ever changes,” said a resolute Gov. Kathy Hochul. “Except here, in New York.”

In response to a new rash of mass shootings nationally, Hochul moved swiftly to sign into law a 10-bill package intended to strengthen New York State’s gun laws.

Among other measures, the legislative package will ban the sale of semiautomatic rifles to anyone under 21, prohibit the purchase of body armor by the general public, require microstamping for new semiautomatic handguns, bolster the state’s “red flag” laws, and make it a crime to threaten mass violence.

“We are still hurting, we are still grieving,” said Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown.

Hochul signed the bills during a ceremony at the Northeast Bronx YMCA on June 9.

The laws were passed two weeks after a school shooting in Uvalde, Texas left 19 children and 2 adults dead. A few weeks prior, 10 people were killed in a racially-motivated attack at a supermarket in Buffalo, Hochul’s hometown. More recently, mass shootings occurred in Tulsa and Philadelphia.

The legislation will also allow for information-sharing between state, local, and federal agencies when guns are used in crimes, require social media companies to report hateful content, ban large-scale ammunition magazines, and broaden the definition of a firearm.

“We’re closing loopholes so the firearms that are being so cleverly manufactured or altered cannot evade our laws anymore,” Hochul said. “There’s more to do. Thoughts and prayers won’t fix this. But taking strong action will.”

At the Bronx ceremony, Hochul was joined by State Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart Cousins, a host of state legislators, and Attorney General Letitia James.

The 10-bill package.(Darren McGee- Office of Governor Kathy Hochul)

James lambasted members of a “feckless, spineless, reckless party known as the GOP” for standing in the way of meaningful gun reform at the federal level.

She said her office was prepared to defend the new laws against any legal challenges from pro-gun groups or weapons manufacturers.

“The Second Amendment is not absolute,” she said.

Also in attendance was Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown, who thanked lawmakers for taking “strong and swift action” to prevent gun violence.

“For us in Buffalo, this is very personal,” said Brown. “We are still hurting, we are still grieving.”

“We know we could not hesitate to take action,” said Speaker Carl Heastie.

The state’s red flag law has been expanded so that more people, including health care professionals, can file an Extreme Risk Protection Order (ERPO) to ensure firearms are confiscated from dangerous people. Updated legislation also ensures that mental health practitioners’ reports on potentially harmful individuals are considered closely when determining whether to issue a firearm license, and requires police to file ERPOs when credible information is received.

Law enforcement officials have said that stronger red flag laws might have prevented the Buffalo shooting, as the shooter’s racist social media posts and threats could have resulted in the confiscation of his weapon.

Heastie noted that the new laws came together quickly in the state legislature.

“After the horrific events in Buffalo and Uvalde, we know we could not hesitate to take action,” he said.

Stewart-Cousins agreed that state lawmakers fought to push bills through so that New York would “be the leader, so we can set an example” for the rest of the nation.

The event was held on June 9 at the Northeast Bronx YMCA.

“History will judge us by how we respond, how we meet this moment,” Hochul remarked, “by whether we did everything in our power to keep these guns off the streets and out of the hands of criminals.”

A bill sponsored by State Senator Luis Sepulveda is aimed at closing a loophole for charging crimes committed with “ghost guns” – untraceable firearms that can be purchased online by anyone and assembled at home, without a background check.

The bill expands the definition of a firearm to include other weapons including ghost guns.

“Now, if you commit a violent felony now with a ghost gun, you are subjected to 25 years in prison. It elevates the charge, it amplifies the number of years you serve, and it encompasses not only ghost guns but anything that releases a projectile,” explained Sepulveda, who said ghost guns are commonly used to commit crimes in his Senate district. “I think it’s going to have a big impact.”

Community leaders and elected officials gathered at the signing.

Jackie Rowe-Adams, co-founder of anti-violence advocacy group Harlem Mothers SAVE, commended the new gun legislation but said she hoped to see Albany do more to amend bail reform and address gun trafficking.

Rowe-Adams said she wants judges to have more discretion to keep those facing gun charges in jail, and stronger laws to prevent illegal guns from entering New York through the I-95 corridor.

“Until we get behind that, there’s going to be a lot of killing and a lot of shootings because these illegal guns are coming to our city, our state,” she said. “Was this a great start? Yes. But they need to do more.”