The NY SAFE Act, the landmark gun safety bill passed in the aftermath of the Newtown massacre, was supported by a bipartisan legislature and signed in to law by Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Jan. 15, 2013. It is also supported by a wide majority of New Yorkers.
The NY SAFE Act was not rushed through. The measures in the law were bills that had been pending in the Assembly and Senate for years. These are not new ideas. Several assault weapon bills have passed or have been proposed over the years. In 2012, there were two bills in the Assembly proposing expansion of the assault weapons ban: A6108 (Titone) and A1479 (Rosenthal). A5866-A (Jeffries) proposed a ban on high capacity magazines. Bills on revocation of firearms licenses for prohibited purchasers include A3081 (Lupardo), A6406-A (Weinstein). The Assembly also passed A2494-A (O'Donnell) for a number of years, which requires that a judge inquire as to the possession of a firearm by a defendant or respondent when issuing an order of protection. A bill, A3295 by Paulin was proposed on recertification of pistol permits; and a bill on background checks for private sales, A362 (Paulin) was proposed in 2012.
It is important to realize that the New York SAFE Act respects the right to bear arms and the interest of hunters, sportsmen and legal owners who use their guns appropriately. It is fully consistent with the Second Amendment. Justice Scalia affirmed in the 2008 Heller decision that the Second Amendment allows reasonable regulation of dangerous and unusual weapons. The muskets of the 18th century and other single-shot weapons have little in common with the military-style assault weapons and high capacity magazines today.
The SAFE?Act is seen by some as protecting public safety.
And federal Judge William Skretny, a Republican appointed by George H. W. Bush, agrees. On Dec. 31, he ruled that the NY SAFE Act's regulation of assault weapons and high capacity magazines is constitutional and furthermore protects public safety. And he is right. New Yorkers are safer from gun violence after the passage of the NY SAFE Act. The stronger ban on assault weapons and high capacity magazines will keep weapons like the Bushmaster assault rifle used in the Newtown tragedy out of New York communities. Adam Lanza used four 30-round magazines to kill 20 children and 6 educators. If he had been limited to 10-round magazines, he would not have been able to kill so many people so quickly. Nine-year-old Christine Taylor-Green, was killed in Tucson with the 13th bullet. She would be alive today if the killer had used a 10-round magazine.
The New York SAFE Act protects public safety by requiring criminal background checks on all gun and ammunition sales. Guns and ammunition will be kept out of the hands of convicted felons, domestic abusers and potentially dangerous mental health patients. From 1994 to 2009, the federal background check system has kept nearly 2 million criminals and other dangerous people from buying guns. Responsible gun owners are not against keeping guns out of the wrong hands. The law also toughens criminal penalties on those who use illegal guns.
The SAFE Act protects public safety by requiring pistol licenses and assault rifle registrations to be recertified every five years, just as New Yorkers must renew their driver's licenses every five years. Recertification of firearms permits will give law enforcement the ability to determine if the licensee has engaged in any criminal activity that would prohibit the individual from continuing to possess a firearm. For example, at the 2009 Binghamton mass shooting, the shooter had a lifetime firearms permit, therefore law enforcement did not learn of his violent behavior that would have disqualified him from having the permit. There is no cost involved in registering assault weapons. In fact, the registration process is much simpler than the process for obtaining a handgun license.
The New York SAFE Act protects public safety by making the murder of a first responder who is engaged in his or her duties a Class A-1 felony, with a mandatory penalty of life in prison without parole. It will provide needed protection to our first responders like those in Webster, N.Y.
The SAFE Act protects public safety by requiring the safe storage of firearms in homes where individuals live who have been convicted of a crime, involuntarily committed, or subject to an order of protection.
The law also protects victims of domestic violence by requiring the court to suspend or revoke gun permits when issuing or addressing a violation of an order of protection.
Strong gun laws work and they are a big reason why New York, a state of 20 million people, has the fourth lowest gun death rate in the nation, despite hosting 80 million visitors per year.
But strong federal gun laws are needed to further protect New Yorkers. In 2012, 68 percent of traced crime guns in New York state - 90 percent in New York City - originated from states with weak gun laws. Universal background checks and making gun trafficking a felony would help reduce the flow of illegal guns into New York's communities and would protect our citizens from the scourge of gun violence. That's something all New Yorkers should support.
Leah Gunn Barrett is executive director of the New Yorkers Against Gun Violence and the New Yorkers Against Gun Violence Education Fund.