News last week that 44,485 assault-style weapons have been registered in a new State Police database brought a variety of responses.
Opponents of the 2013 Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act said the number was proof of a widespread boycott of the law, given initial estimates that hundreds of thousands of such weapons, maybe even a million, are owned in the state.
“The people of New York state who have been calling for a repeal (of the SAFE Act) have decided to repeal it on their own by not complying,” remarked Tom King, president of the New York State Rifle & Pistol Association.
SAFE Act supporters deemed the numbers a sign of success — though even Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who pushed the law through in January 2013, suggested the actual number of unregistered guns was unknown. “I don’t know that anyone knows what the actual level of compliance is,” the governor said during a news conference Thursday.
For comparison, people could point to neighboring Connecticut, where a similar ban passed after the SAFE Act has resulted in the registration of 50,016 assault weapons.
But with 3.6 million residents, Connecticut’s population is a fraction of New York’s 19.5 million.
The assault-style weapons bans in New York and Connecticut have many similarities. Both were passed and signed into law in response to the December 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., in which 27 people, including 20 children, were killed by a heavily armed lone shooter, who also died.
And in both states, lawmakers decided to ban assault-style weapons while allowing those who already owned such guns to keep them — as long as the weapons were registered.
New York’s law came first after being rushed through the state Legislature by Cuomo a month after the Newtown tragedy. Connecticut’s lawmakers and Gov. Dannell Molloy moved passed their ban the following April 2013.
Backlash against the laws has invigorated Second Amendment advocates in New York and Connecticut, resulting in lawsuits over the measures. In fact, disclosure of New York’s registration figures came only after Rochester-area lawyer Paloma Capanna sued the state for the data.
As for the higher registration numbers in Connecticut, experts have some theories but no easy answers.
Several observers and activists note that Connecticut has historically been home to several venerable gun manufacturers — including Colt, Mossberg and Sturm Ruger. New York has its own history with Remington Arms located in Ilion.
“There is a strong gun-owning tradition in New England,” said Robert Spitzer, a political science professor at SUNY Cortland, and author of the new book “Guns Across America: Reconciling Gun Rules and Rights.”
Here’s a side-by-side comparison of the two states and their gun laws:
New York’s SAFE Act took effect January 2013, mere weeks after Sandy Hook. It was passed by lawmakers less than 24 hours after being unveiled to the public under a “message of necessity,” which circumvents the usual three-day aging period for legislation.
Connecticut’s law, referred to as Public Act 13-3, was passed in April 2013. Opponents argue that the final version was rushed through under an Emergency Certification heading, which can bypass the usual committee process.
In New York, weapons with a detachable magazine and a military-style feature such as pistol grip or bayonet mount fall under the ban. Pistols and semiautomatic shotguns with military features also are considered assault weapons.
Connecticut uses essentially the same standards, although its law lists specific brands and models that are banned. The law has a significant exemption: Vintage assault-style weapons produced before 1994 can still be purchased.
Both New York and Connecticut limit to 10 the number of bullets that can be loaded in a weapon. The SAFE Act initially set a seven-bullet limit, but a court ruling returned it to 10.
Gun rights groups from both New York and Connecticut are joint plaintiffs in a federal case against the two laws. New York’s Rifle & Pistol Association as well as the Connecticut Citizens Defense League and National Rifle Association are involved. Capanna, whose lawsuit on behalf of a Rochester radio host forced the release of registration numbers, is one of several attorneys suing over other aspects of the New York law, such as the way a “no-gun” list for those with mental illness works.
In New York, the Rifle & Pistol Association saw its membership double to 47,000 after the law was passed. The Shooters Committee on Public Education saw its membership jump as well. “We’ve grown quite a bit,” said SCOPE President Stephen Aldstadt. Another group, NY2A, started up specifically to oppose the SAFE Act,
In Connecticut, the Citizens Defense League continues to push back against the ban. Connecticut Carry has noted the low number of registrations and has issued its own estimates that up to 350,000 assault weapons are owned in the state. The Coalition of Connecticut Sportsmen is also involved in fighting the ban in court.
Like its New York sibling, Connecticut Against Gun Violence is pushing laws that would allow guns to be taken from people who engage in domestic violence or those who family members or friends believe suffer from mental illness.
Local sheriffs in many upstate New York counties have made it clear that enforcement of the assault weapon ban simply isn’t a priority.
Arrests in Connecticut are very rare, said Scott Wilson of the Citizens Defense League. The few arrests related to the registration ban usually occur in concert with a traffic stop or drug crimes.
Opponents in both states cite the ban as a reason that gun makers have left, although there are many factors — real estate costs and tax benefits chief among them — that contribute to corporate location decisions. Remington remains in Ilion, where it’s been since 1816, but the company is expanding operations in Alabama rather than New York. CEO George Kollitides, in a letter sent last fall to officials, cited the “state policies affecting use of our products” as a reason for the Alabama expansion. In late 2013, American Tactical Imports left Rochester for South Carolina, citing the ban as well as the southern state’s proximity to a port. Handgun maker Kahr Arms has expanded in neighboring Pennsylvania, although it still has an office in Rockland County.
In Connecticut, PTR Industries cited the ban as it left for South Carolina, but according to written reports it is currently behind on the rent in its new location. Mossberg also expanded its shotgun facilities recently in Texas rather than in its home state, with that company’s CEO citing the ban as a reason.
New York’s vast upstate region, where hunting is popular and there are remote areas without much police presence, is home to most of the state’s SAFE Act opposition — as evidenced by the lawn signs that continue to dot roadsides,
In far smaller Connecticut, the split is between the New York City suburbs and the rural western part of the state, home to many hunters.
A May Siena Research Institute Poll found that 62 percent of New York voters overall support the SAFE Act. But 51 percent of upstate voters oppose it.
A June 2013 poll by Quinnipiac University found Connecticut voters approved of their state’s gun control laws by a 57-37 percent margin, but 35 percent said it went too far.
Opponents of the ban in both states say that turnout in their ranks helped swing several close legislative elections. Senate Republicans in New York last fall maintained that anger over the act helped elect three GOP newcomers: George Amedore, Sue Serino and Richard Funke. They defeated three Democratic incumbents — Cecilia Tkaczyk, Terry Gipson and Ted O’Brien — who voted for the law.
In Connecticut, opponents of the ban as well as Democrats said the backlash helped bring 10 new Republicans to the state Legislature, including Aundre Bumgardner, a 20-year-old Republican of Puerto Rican and African-American background. Described as a social progressive with a libertarian streak, he had the National Rifle Association’s endorsement.
This article was written by Rick Karlin and was originally published on TimesUnion.com.