New gun law sparks concerns locally


Recorder News Staff

MAYFIELD -- Throughout the day Tuesday, cars lined the portion of Route 30 outside Frank's Gun & Tackle Shop as residents from throughout the area reacted to news of the passage of what is touted to be the strictest gun control law in the nation.

Exactly one month after 20 children were gunned down in their Newtown, Conn. elementary school, the most strident gun control measures in the country swept through the New York state legislature this week.

The measure, signed into law by Governor Andrew Cuomo Tuesday evening, makes New York the first state in the nation to tighten its gun laws in the wake of the Sandy Hook tragedy.

The Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act passed easily through the Republican-controlled Senate Monday night, by a vote of 42 to 18. The Assembly followed suit on Tuesday, with a vote of 104 to 43 in favor.

The legislation, among other things, bans possession of high-magazine clips, narrows the state's definition of an assault rifle, requires background checks on the sale of ammunition, creates a statewide assault weapon registry, requires stricter background checks and permit renewals every five years, mandates that stolen guns be reported and requires therapist who believe that a mentally ill patient has made a credible threat to harm others to report the danger. Doing so could result in the seizure of any weapon's that patient may own.

For Frank's Gun & Tackle shop owner John Havlick, customers rushing to make last-minute purchases in advance of sweeping changes to the state's gun control laws translated to hefty profits.

"It's been non-stop all day long," Havlick said.

"The sad part about it is they have actually put more guns out there," he chuckled, noting an increase in permit applications in the month since the tragedy in Newtown in light of what is expected to be National gun law reform.

The products specifically identified in New York's law, Havlick said, have actually been sold out for weeks.

Still, Havlick said, the news of the legislation is far from good for him and his counterparts throughout the state, noting that the provisions of the law have the potential to impact half his inventory.

"It's going to kill all the gun shops in New York state," Havlick said. "Is it going to save lives? No. Criminals aren't coming in here to buy guns."

"After tomorrow, we're going to be selling sticks, not sharpened either -- blunt -- cause they could hurt somebody," he added.

Among Havlick's biggest concerns is the lack of information he has been provided with respect to the law's specific provisions.

"I'm not even sure what I can and can't sell at this point," Havlick said. "Nobody's clarified anything for me."

Clarification, apparently, is also what Havlick's customers were seeking Tuesday, as well, with hundreds making either a trip, or a phone call, to the shop wondering what they would be able to legally purchase under the new law.

Ultimately, Havlick said, the specifics of the legislation were not as concerning as its potential implications on constitutional freedoms and what he believed to be its lack of efficacy.

"I had a Vietnam Veteran come into the shop today and he said: 'I fought for this country. My buddies died there. And this is what it comes down to," Havlick recounted. "If somebody wants to hurt somebody, they're going to do it any way they can."

For Havlick's customers on Tuesday, the sentiment was much the same.

"I think it's just a dog and pony show," Mayfield resident Bucky VonVolkenburg said of the push to enact stricter legislation. "They're just trying to push through their agenda."

VonVolkenburg, a gun owner himself and member of the National Rifle Association, called the new law an infringement on his constitutional rights.

"The whole point of the second amendment is to make sure you have a well armed citizenry. Without that, we're just subjects," VonVolkenburg said. "I think it's a big lie that they tell when they say most people want to ban AR-15's. I think the government wants to ban AR-15's. They're opportunists."

"These things are here in the event of an extreme situation," added his friend Charles Papa. "The Founding Fathers understood that."

Both VonVolkenburg and Papa said they believed the new laws unfairly target gun owners as perpetuators of violence and guns, in general, as posing extreme safety risks.

"If they don't use a gun, they'll figure out other ways to do it," said Papa. "Look at Timothy McVeigh."

"If people start slamming into malls and killing people, they go after the driver, not the automobile maker," said Jim Frisch, another customer at the shop on Tuesday.

"Why do you need a 30-clip gun?" Papa said, citing the argument of gun control advocates. "Well, why do you need a Ferrari that goes 210 mph?

VonVolkenburg and Papa did, however, find parts of the new law worthy of support, specifically those that restricted the ability of individuals with mental health issues to own a weapon.

"It would help to do something with mental health," Papa said.

For Fulton County Sheriff Thomas Lorey, who will be among those in charge of enforcing the new law, some of the law's new provisions were welcome.

"There are actually some good provisions of the law," Lorey said. "The mental health part is good. Certainly people who are operating in a diminished mental capacity shouldn't be allowed to have a firearm. I'm all for that."

"I'm all for extended background check," he added. "Certainly if you've been arrested and have been convicted of a violent felony you shouldn't have a gun."

The majority of the measure, however, is a failure, Lorey said.

"I believe that none of the new laws will do anything other than put an additional burden on local government," Lorey said, specifically citing the provision that requires pistol permit holders, as well as those who will be registered owners of assault rifles, to recertify every five years. "Our office is already overburdened with incoming pistol permit applications and we're doing the best we can to keep up, but we're quickly falling behind. An additional burden makes additional work and makes the process that much slower for folks who are law abiding citizens who are trying to get a permit.

"It's another unfunded mandate on the backs of the county," he added. "We're going to have to hire more personnel just to deal with the permits."

Lorey also questioned the law's constitutionality and it's potential harmful impacts on responsible gun owners.

"It's a big infringement, as far as I'm concerned, on people's Second Amendment rights to begin with," Lorey said.

Enforcement of the law's new provisions, Lorey said, presents its own difficulties.

"It remains to be seen how it can be enforced," said Lorey. "There are literally thousands and thousands if not millions of those [high-capacity] magazines in the possession of law abiding people in New York state. There's no way to know who has them.

"There are actually good parts of the law, but there are others that are really bad and, in my opinion, unconstitutional," Lorey continued. "Time will tell and the law will take its course and perhaps the law will be struck down eventually."

Not likely, however, according to Albany Law School professor and senior fellow Paul Finkelman.

Finkelman, an expert on constitutional law who has written extensively on the history of the Second Amendment, said the law, as he sees it, appears to be constitutionally sound.

"I don't think there's anything unconstitutional about this," said Finkelman. "Firearms, being dangerous instruments, can be regulated. Actually, I don't think it is a particularly dangerous bill at all."

"Certainly the government can limit the ownership of certain kinds of weapons," he added. "There's never been any indication that they can't."

Citing several Supreme Court decisions on the matter, Finkelman said the constitution in no way precludes "reasonable regulation of firearms."

And the regulations included in the state's new law, Finkelman said, are reasonable.

"They're not preventing people from owning firearms," Finkelman said. "Firearms have been regulated in this country since the beginning of the country. Firearms were regulated in the colonial period. Firearms were regulated throughout the 19th century and throughout the 20th century.

"It is only in the last few years that the NRA has concluded that something which is designed to take the life of another person shouldn't be regulated. It's a semi-nuts position to say the least," Finkelman continued. "We regulate automobiles, which are dangerous instrumentalities. We regulate what you can wear when you drive a motorcycle. We regulate poisons."

Finkelman said the law is not likely to be struck down.

"I see it withstanding any potential challenges because I don't see anything that's unconstitutional about it," said Finkelman. "If you read the Supreme Court decisions on the second amendment, they do not give you a constitutional right to own any weapon you want."

"Even if you except a kind of very vigorous notion of personal right to own a weapon, it doesn't mean you can own a weapon any where any time," he added. "You have a right of free exercise of religion. It doesn't mean that you can stop your car in the middle of Interstate 87 at rush hour and get out your car and start praying."

Though the measure enjoyed overwhelming support from legislators throughout the state, local representatives have touted the measure as oppressive."

"At the opening of the 2013 legislative session, this house, the 'people's house,' patted itself on the back for all its good works and accomplishments, and yet in less than 24 hours we've been forced to take up a bill that tramples on New Yorker's constitutional rights by giving the public no opportunity for input or reasoned deliberation," Assembly Marc Butler, R-Newport said in a statement. ""This bill not only falls short of its most basic objectives to keep people safe from those who wish to harm them, but works to infringe upon our Second Amendment rights and, especially in the Mohawk Valley, threatens the livelihood of families who are employed by Remington Arms.

"In the governor's eagerness to gain notoriety and be the first state to adopt stricter gun laws, we've lost so much, namely our rights, our voices and even our security," he added. ""We cannot take pride in the way New York's government acted today."

"I had over 800 calls, letters and e-mails opposed to the bill and about 19 or 20 in favor of it," said state Sen. Hugh Farley, R-Niskayuna, who also voted against the bill. "I believe in the Second Amendment and I thought that this was an infringement upon the Second Amendment and one that took law abiding gun owners and possibly could make them a criminal if they didn't comply with all of the loops."

Farley also, however, found some good in the regulations.

"On balance, there were some good things in that bill," Farley said citing the mental health provisions, as well as a on that makes it illegal to publish the names and addresses of legal permit holders.

Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara, D-Rotterdam, the only local representative who voted in favor of the bill, issued this statement: "These are common-sense measures that can help keep our children and families safe," said Santabarbara. "This is a balanced approach to combating gun violence while respecting the rights of law-abiding gun owners."