Upstate Republicans target SAFE Act repeal

State lawmakers representing upstate communities are trying to undo SAFE Act rules yet again.

Legislation put forth this year contrasts to prior attempts, however, as proposed repeals won’t include New York City.

Senate and Assembly Republicans say the proposed bill would do away with gun regulations upstate while still keeping SAFE Act rules in place in Kings, Queens, Richmond, New York and Bronx counties.

Specifically, legislation would lift bans on semi-automatic weapons with cosmetic features, like an adjustable stock or a handle on the side, in upstate counties. The bill would also remove restrictions on the transfer of guns to family members due to the gun owner’s death.

Legislation would remove the background check requirement for ammunition purchases.

The five-year recertification requirement for pistol permits would be taken out as well.

The bill was introduced by Central New York Assemblyman Marc Butler and state Sen. Robert Ortt, R-North Tonawanda. The bill has 19 cosponsors in the Senate, including state Sen. Cathy Young, R-Olean. Twenty-two Assembly members signed on including Andy Goodell, R-Jamestown, and Joseph Giglio, R-Gowanda.

Supporters of the SAFE Act view it as a positive action to address ongoing gun violence throughout cities in the state. On the other side, opponents say gun violence seen in places like New York City almost exclusively involve handguns and not rifles, which the SAFE Act primarily targets. Goodell has long been critical of the SAFE Act and its target on licensed hunters who know how to handle rifles.

“New York City legislators have made it clear they were never going to support a repeal statewide,” he said. “It’s difficult to convince them that rural upstate is different than urban New York City.”

Despite unrest over the SAFE Act, heightened mental health evaluations before purchasing a firearm are supported on both sides of the aisle. Even if the SAFE Act was repealed, Goodell said it’s likely the provision would be reenacted.

“The items that were positive in the SAFE Act like the mental health evaluations and reports were a minor part and could continue even if the rest were repealed,” he said.

While those downstate have praised the SAFE Act’s effectiveness, Giglio said it’s putting restrictions on responsible, law-abiding gun owners in Western New York and upstate.

“This is about coming together and realizing that our state has two different approaches to gun ownership between our geographical areas,” he said. “I feel that this is common ground where both houses, both sides of the aisle, the Governor’s Office and the citizens of New York can all come out as winners.”

Legislation needs approval from both houses to be considered for signing by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. In the past, bills to repeal SAFE Act measures passed through the Senate but never got out of the Assembly. Young said New York City Democrats’ past refusals shouldn’t stop the efforts to restore individuals’ constitutional rights.

“The SAFE Act was driven by New York City when it originally passed and it would make sense to take them out of this legislation (to repeal),” Young said. “We need our firearms for protection in rural areas like ours. The SAFE Act really needs to go.”