Holding the line on firearms

ALBANY—Last week, the Democratic-controlled New York State Legislature passed a series of bills that look to strengthen the state’s gun laws, which are already some of the strongest in the country. The several bills breezed through the state Assembly, which has been run by Democrats for over 40 years, as well as the state Senate, which was recently taken over by Democrats in the November elections.

Some of the most notable measures include extending waiting periods for gun buyers who don’t pass an instant background check and enacting the red flag law, which allows law enforcement and family members to petition a state court judge to order a temporary removal of firearms from an individual who may pose a threat to themselves and others. The law also allows the judge to prevent someone from purchasing a gun.

Bump stocks, which allows semi-automatic rifles to work like machine guns, would also be banned under these measures. However, it was already announced late last year that the Trump administration would be banning these devices.

New York’s recent gun legislation also creates a municipal gun buyback program and prohibits anyone besides law enforcement and other security officials from carrying guns on school grounds.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo supports the legislation, which came less than a month into his third term. Cuomo has reportedly called the measures “a big step forward” for common-sense gun control. He is expected to sign the legislation into law.

The move marks New York’s most comprehensive gun legislation since 2013, shortly after the Sandy Hook school shooting. This wave of gun control measures brought about the Safe Act, which Cuomo has since deemed one of his crowning achievements.

Republicans, who controlled the state Senate at the time, allowed these regulations to be put up for a vote, but largely blocked gun control measures favored by Cuomo and the Democratic Assembly. The Safe Act expanded the state’s ban on assault weapons by broadening the legal definition to include semi-automatic weapons. It also increased criminal penalties for illegal firearms and closed private sale loopholes.

New York State Assemblyman Andrew Garbarino (R-Sayville) and New York State Sen. Monica Martinez (D-Hauppauge) were contacted about the measures but didn’t respond by press time. Both of their respective offices said they were in session up in Albany.

Tom King, president of the New York State Rifle and Pistol Association, reportedly called the Legislature’s bills “disingenuous,” adding that they would only harm individuals who follow current firearm laws. “It’s a violation of their Second Amendment rights and these are lawful gun owners who are not committing the crimes,” said King, who is also a National Rifle Association board member.

Multiple gun shops refused to speak about the legislation, with one citing what they felt to be a media bias against guns. However, Chris Rallo from Jerry’s Firearms & Supplies in Bohemia was willing to speak about the issue.

Rallo, echoing King’s comments, said many gun owners feel this latest round of legislation is yet another infringement on their Second Amendment rights. While he took issue with many of the newest measures, Rallo doesn’t feel that any single piece of legislation is one step over the line, but rather one more “compromise” that gun owners are consistently forced to make. “You can’t help but feel that way,” he said, adding that the majority of gun owners are law-abiding citizens.

The ban on bump stocks, Rallo feels, is more of a symbolic move, being that Stephen Paddock had over a dozen in his possession when he carried out the 2017 Las Vegas shooting, where he killed 59 people and wounded over 800 others.

Rallo also “isn’t crazy about” preventing teachers from carrying guns because it “takes away their choice.”

In regards to the red flag law, Rallo is not in favor of judges having the right to temporarily remove firearms from individuals because the rulings are “based on hearsay.” Rallo says individuals can use the law against others in ongoing personal feuds, citing divorce cases in particular. “It will be interesting to see, if [the red flag law] passes, how many cases will be in the courts over this,” he added.

The red flag law is currently active in 13 states including California and Florida, along with Illinois and Indiana in the Midwest.

According to reports, California, which has approximately 4.2 million gun owners, granted 189 petitions for gun violence restraining orders in 2016 and 2017. Of those petitions, the reports said family members filed only 12. The rest were filed by law enforcement.

The amount of applications filed by family members in Maryland, a state with about 1.2 million gun owners, is a little higher. Maryland, according to reports, seized guns from 148 people in the three months after signing the bill into law last year. About 150 others were filed, but not approved. Family members accounted for around 60 percent of the applications, the reports said, while the rest were filed overwhelmingly by law enforcement.

Rallo believes the “ultimate goal” of legislation like this is to “restrict all semi-automatic firearms.” But, in the end, he also feels measures like these will drive up gun sales.

In addition to police and family members, under the red flag law, teachers and other school administrators would also be able to petition judges regarding individuals and their use of firearms.

Bay Shore School District Superintendent Joseph Bond said that his district supports the ability of any adult who interacts with our students on a regular basis to report concerns about a student. “Being able to access additional assistance from the courts will only make crisis interventions more effective,” Bond said, adding that Bay Shore schools have no interest in arming teachers. “Our teachers’ roles within our buildings is to shape the next generation, not carry weapons,” he wrote in a statement.

Patchogue-Medford School District Superintendent Michael Hynes was reluctant to comment about the red flag law being practiced in schools since he wasn’t completely up to speed about the measure. However, Hynes said he completely agrees with the measure that bans teachers from carrying guns on school grounds.

“Teachers should be teaching and developing relationships with students, not carrying guns,” Hynes said. “That’s why we have security guards.” He went on to stress his opinion that the very idea of teachers carrying guns is “one of the most insane” propositions he has ever heard. “I don’t care if you quote me on that,” he laughed.

Bayport-Blue Point and Connetquot school districts both declined to comment on the measures, while Sayville school superintendent John Stimmel simply stated, “As laws are authorized to enhance the safety of our community, Sayville Public School will continue to work closely with the Suffolk County Police Department whenever there is a perceived threat.”

Nearly three quarters of teachers in the United States do not want to carry guns in school, according to a Gallup poll that was conducted last year, shortly after the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Fla. The poll, which surveyed 500 K-12 teachers throughout the nation, also found that teachers overwhelmingly support gun control measures over security steps in order to combat school shootings.

The poll also noted that teachers’ political beliefs might influence their opinions about gun-related issues, being that they are twice as likely to identify as or lean Democratic rather than Republican.

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