Created: 12/29/2013 11:13 AM WHEC.com
By: Associated Press
Nearly a year after passage of the state's new gun law, dealer sales of popular AR-15 semi-automatic rifles have ended in New York and arrest data show more than 1,000 gun possession charges in New York City were boosted from misdemeanors to felonies because of the changes.
Meanwhile, 59 people have been charged statewide with misdemeanors for possessing large-capacity magazines or having more than seven bullets loaded in a magazine, both outlawed by the law passed last January in the aftermath of the school massacre in Newtown, Conn.
A report from the Division of Criminal Justice Services shows only one person charged with the illegal sale or transfer of a gun defined as an assault weapon as of mid-December. The new law tightened that definition to include AR-15s. Owners may keep their older weapons but must register them by April 15.
"The numbers are indisputable. The SAFE Act has enabled the state to better protect New Yorkers," said Melissa DeRosa, spokeswoman for Gov. Andrew Cuomo. He pushed the legislation shortly after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School that left 20 first-graders and six educators dead. Police said the 20-year-old gunman used a semi-automatic rifle and 30-round magazines.
The DCJS data from arrests and arraignments statewide showed 1,291 charges under the new gun law, with 1,155 for felony firearm possession, formerly just a misdemeanor, and 1,041 of the cases in New York City, mostly in Brooklyn and the Bronx. The new felony took effect in March, elevating the charge and penalty for illegal possession of a firearm.
Separately, 17,751 people have been charged so far this year with misdemeanor weapon possession, almost 90 percent in New York City, comparable to last year's 19,089 yearlong total before the law changed. The misdemeanor charge includes other weapons like switchblades, blackjacks and brass knuckles.
Other arrests under the new gun law included 26 for weapon possession on school grounds.
Tom King, president of the New York State Rifle & Pistol Association, whose federal lawsuit in Buffalo to overturn the law awaits a judge's ruling, said it has been his organization's position for years that what's needed is enforcement and prosecution of existing gun laws. "Other than to make it extremely difficult for the legal and lawful gun owner in New York state, I don't see what the SAFE Act has done in New York to make anyone more safe."
King said he wasn't surprised that licensed dealers have followed the law and stopped selling guns redefined in the law as assault weapons. "The dealers have always been following the laws, as have most of the legal and lawful gun owners," he said.
The state police, who for months have been accepting online registrations for those guns ahead of the April 15 deadline, refused to disclose how many they have received. Spokeswoman Darcy Wells said the statistics are "derived from information collected for the state police database and are, therefore, exempt from disclosure."
At gun rallies this year outside the Capitol in Albany, several protesters vowed not to register their guns, calling it a violation of their Second Amendment rights. King suggested police weren't revealing the number of registrations because there have been so few.
Concerning registration enforcement after April 15, Wells said state police are warning that failing to register by the deadline is punishable by a misdemeanor charge and forfeiting the gun, but there will be some initial leniency.
"If the failure to register is deemed to be unintentional, a 30-day amnesty period will be extended for purposes of registering the weapon without fear of prosecution," she said.
Hans Farnung, chief executive of Beikirch Ammunition in East Rochester, said he now has two stores in Pennsylvania and is considering a third there with its better business climate. His New York store can no longer sell AR-15s, as well as some other guns used for hunting deer or turkey or even trap shooting because of pistol or thumbhole grips that put them under the new outline for assault weapons, he said.
"We've done well this year, but some of it is still panic buying," Farnung said. He noted that he now has .22-caliber ammunition, which had sold out and remained in short supply earlier this year. Meanwhile, American Tactical Imports decided to leave Rochester for South Carolina, taking 118 jobs, while AR15.com left the Finger Lakes region for Texas, he said.
"January will be the first anniversary," he said of the law. "Show me proof violence is down, shootings are down, murders with handguns are down."