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Repeal of SAFE Act longest of longshots

Albany — Two years after the passage of the controversial SAFE Act gun legislation, efforts continue to repeal the law.

But even lawmakers opposed to the SAFE Act admit repeal is the longest of longshots.

“We understand that the odds are more than long that Governor Cuomo or the downstate Assembly Democratic leadership would ever suddenly reverse course and agree to repeal it,” said state Sen. Tom O’Mara, R-Big Flats (Chemung County). “But this opposition is having a lasting impact.”

Republican state Sen. Michael Nozzolio of Seneca Falls (Seneca County) introduced the SAFE Act repeal legislation on the first day of the 2015 session.

In an online petition seeking support for Senate Bill 511, Nozzolio said the “so-called SAFE Act violates the freedoms of law-abiding gun owners, and it does little to provide real solutions to the problem of criminals who use guns to commit violent crimes in our community. You and I know that responsible, law-abiding firearms owners are not the cause of the problem, and they should not be penalized.

Nozzolio’s proposal would repeal the SAFE Act but keeps intact the provision which mandates life without parole for anyone who murders an emergency responder. That provision was included in response to the December 2012 shooting death of two Webster, N.Y., firefighters who were ambushed by a gunman.

The law was crafted by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in response to the 2012 Connecticut school shootings. Passed by solid majorities in the Senate and Assembly, it bans New York sales of semi-automatic weapons and mandates registration of those firearms.

Tweaks to the law tightened the definition of an assault weapon to semi-automatics that can accept detachable magazines and have one military-style feature. The old definition required two such features, including protruding pistol grips, folding stocks, thumbhole stocks, a second handgrip, bayonet mount and flash suppressor.

That meant several popular sporting arms were suddenly illegal for use in New York state.

Sportsmen and gun owners immediately protested the SAFE Act, and it became an issue that galvanized sportsmen, primarily across upstate New York.

It also played a role in last November’s election. While Cuomo won re-election to a second term on the strength of his New York City support, three incumbent Senate Democrats – all of who voted in favor of the SAFE Act – were unseated by Republican challengers.

Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, widely criticized by sportsmen and gun owners for voting in favor of the SAFE Act, admits the legislation isn’t going to be repealed.

“There are some changes that I would like to see made,” he said. “The federal courts have indicated that the seven bullets (limit in a magazine) is unconstitutional. But the reality is that the governor is not going to change the SAFE Act and the Assembly is not going to change the SAFE Act. But if there are things that can be done in a positive way, I would be supportive of that.”

Another bill introduced by Republican Sen. Phil Boyle, R-Bay Shore, would modify the magazine capacity piece of the law and repeal other sections.

A provision that would create a database to track ammunition sales has yet to be implemented.

New York State Rifle and Pistol Association President Tom King predicted the legal challenges to the SAFE Act will ultimately reach the Supreme Court. “I don’t think the governor is going to try to do anything at all unless he is put in a position where he needs something and the Republican Senate would say, ‘We would trade you this for that,’” King said.

This article was originally published by