Already boasting some of the strictest gun laws in the nation, the New York State Legislature passed a series of bills that made gun laws even tougher, but left a sharp divide among political parties.
With a Democratic majority in the state senate and assembly leading the way, new gun control legislation passed easily last week as Albany continues to move forward with a progressive agenda promised by Gov. Andrew Cuomo during his State of State address last month.
The legislation included the “red flag” bill that allows law enforcement, school staff and family members to request a judge stop a person they believe is a threat to themselves or others from temporarily owning or buying a gun until a hearing is held. Other measures banned teachers from carrying a firearm on school grounds, extended the waiting period for someone to purchase a gun if they don’t pass an instant background check and banned bump stocks being sold or manufactured, which can increase the rate of fire in a semi-automatic weapon.
“We take a big step forward today,” Cuomo said during a gun safety forum last week. “No one wants to take guns from legal gun owners who are mentally healthy. We don’t want people who are mentally ill or are past felons to have gun. That’s all this is.”
This is the second time during Cuomo’s tenure in office that sweeping reforms aimed at gun control have been passed. The first time was in 2013–the SAFE Act–in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook school shooting that killed 27 people.
Putnam state representatives were split over the new set of bills. Assemblywoman Sandy Galef and Sen. Peter Harckham, Democrats, voted in favor of the complete package of bills while Assemblyman Kevin Byrne and Sen. Sue Serino, Republicans, did not.
The most controversial piece of the package was the “red flag” bill.
Serino, who lost a brother to suicide, said while she understands the intent behind the “red flag” law, the bill is too broad and fails to get to the heart of the issue when it comes to mental health and gun violence. She added the Democratic majority played politics and rushed the legislation through without getting input from appropriate stakeholders.
“I could not in good conscious support legislation that allows ordinary citizens, with no mental health training or background, to single out others as harmful while then failing to provide any mental health services, support, or legal assistance to the accused,” Serino said in a statement. “That’s a recipe for disaster.”
She pushed for legislation that would’ve put more mental health professionals in schools, but it was rejected by leadership within the state legislature.
Byrne voted against the “red flag” law because of numerous flaws, including opportunities for exploitation and abuse, lack of timely due process and that it provides no additional attention, services, or supervision for those individuals flagged for mental health help. Once a person is flagged as a possible danger, no action is required after confiscation until a hearing is held to determine whether or not that person should have their gun back, Byrne said.
“If these people are such a danger, we should not be leaving them in society where they may have access to alternative methods to harm themselves or others; they should receive an immediate mental health evaluation and the state should be providing assistance and support,” Byrne said in a statement. “Without this added attention, there is a very legitimate concern that this law could unintentionally escalate a situation and further endanger public safety.”
Byrne did vote to ban bump stocks, a piece of legislation he has consistently supported. Byrne said he has also advocated for more mental health services and measures to better protect schools, but assembly leadership has not put the legislation forward.
Supporting the set of gun laws, Sen. Peter Harckham said the “red flag” bill was a “common sense gun safety” measure. He added that there needs to be a “high level of proof” that could result in a firearm being taken away
County Legislator Nancy Montgomery, a Democrat, said she was heartened that state lawmakers have responded to the pleas from responsible gun owners and gun safety advocates. Families, mental health providers, medical professionals and law enforcement have the tools they need to identify people that might hurt themselves or others, she said.
“That will enable us all to proactively assist those who need intervention, and keep our communities safe. At the same time, we have protected the Second Amendment rights of law abiding gun owners,” Montgomery, a Philipstown resident, said in an email. “I hope that New York State’s achievement will be a model for similar legislation across the country.”
Patterson resident Andrew Falk, a former state assembly candidate and current Working Families Party state committee member, said not taking action to curtail gun violence would be “immoral.”
“We need to stop sacrificing our children on the alter of the Second Amendment,” Falk said in an email. “To have a mechanism for reporting a person for additional scrutiny before a tragedy occurs is a safeguard that should be welcomed by everyone and one of the reasons many of us have worked so hard to make a Democratic State Senate a reality.”
But Putnam GOP committee chairman Tony Scannapieco said now “some jerk in the street” can call authorities and assert a person shouldn’t have a firearm because he is mentally unwell. He called the legislation “insane.”
“Every time there’s a mass shooting, they’re always complaining we need to talk about reforms,” Scannapieco said. “When a guy takes a truck and drives down a park in Manhattan and kills a bunch of people, they don’t say anything about trucks.”
The Putnam County Firearm Owners Association (PCFOA) slammed the new set of gun laws rolled out and accused Cuomo of pandering for political reasons all while depriving residents in the state from their right to bear arms. The PCFOA said the state assembly and senate attacked several different amendments in the Constitution and the new legislation “has no basis in law and no basis in fact.”
“And such actions have been undertaken with the primary goal of promoting an anti-American political agenda,” the PCFOA stated. “The members of PCFOA oppose the enactment of any legislation that infringes upon any Rights especially the Right of the People to keep and bear arms and considers such laws to be politically motivated, unconstitutional and beyond lawful Legislative Authority.”