One of the most controversial components of the New York SAFE Act — mandatory registration of assault weapons — kicks in today. Those who fail to comply could end up facing criminal charges.
But local sheriffs and gun rights advocates said they expect the vast majority of those who own such firearms will defy the requirement. And state police offered no details when asked to outline what, if any, plans the agency has for enforcing the statute, which was pushed through the Legislature in January 2013 by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
“I don’t know a single person who is even thinking about complying with registration,” said Jim Losie, owner of Losie’s Gun Shop in Oneonta. Losie called the registration requirement a prelude to eventual confiscation of such weapons by state government.
“The SAFE Act is totally against the Constitution of the United States and the state Constitution,” he said. “If people don’t register these guns, the state won’t have a clue who has them.”
Local sheriffs, who are among the most vocal critics of a statute they see as fundamentally flawed and unnecessary, said they have no plans to actively seek out violators of the registration requirement.
“We’re not going to go out knocking on people’s doors,” said Delaware County Undersheriff Craig DuMond.
DuMond said it’s likely that New York will have significant public resistance to registration, as has occurred in Connecticut, which also passed sweeping gun legislation in response to the massacre at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in December 2012.
Schoharie County Sheriff Tony Desmond had a similar assessment, predicting that compliance will be “pretty low” in his county. He also said his department has no plans for any SAFE Act enforcement actions.
“We don’t have the time or the manpower to do it,” Desmond said. “We have issues of higher importance to deal with.”
The law allows gun owners to register their weapons within 30 days if they unknowingly miss today’s registration deadline. A field guide distributed to troopers last year directs that those who failed to comply with guns purchased prior to Jan. 15, 2013 face misdemeanor charges. If the weapons were purchased later, they would be prosecuted on felony charges.
Guns can be registered at: www.governor.ny.gov/nysafeact/gun-reform.
Even with the threat of criminal sanctions salted into the statute, Otsego County Sheriff Richard Devlin Jr. said he is seeing “no rush to register.”
“No one’s guns are being taken away from them unless they use them illegally,” Devlin said.
Pressed for details on how compliance would be enforced statewide, a spokeswoman for State Police declined to provide specifics, saying the agency cannot comment on policies and procedures. New York State Police Superintendent Joseph D’Amico is an appointee of Cuomo who hailed the SAFE Act as the nation’s first legislative response to the Sandy Hook tragedy.
The state police spokeswoman, Darcy Wells, also cited what she said are confidentiality requirements in the Safe Act that prevent the release of information concerning the number of guns that have been registered. However, the state Committee on Open Government and even a group that supports the Safe Act, New Yorkers Against Violence, have a different interpretation of the statute, saying the confidentiality part of the statute does not apply to raw numerical data that does not disclose the names of those registered the weapons.
Said Losie: “So few people are registering guns that the state police must be embarrassed by the whole thing. They don’t want you to know the truth.”
Critics of the legislation, said Leah Gunn Barrett of New Yorkers Against Gun Violence, should work within the legislative process if they are convinced amendments need to be made to the SAFE Act. The statute, she added, citing recent polls, is supported by nearly two-thirds of New York voters.
“The requirements are not onerous at all,” said Barrett, arguing that registering an assault weapon would be no more complicated than registering a car.
Barrett also contended that sheriffs who say they will take no part in enforcing the law in counties where it is unpopular are “pandering to a certain demographic.”
While some critics of the law point out that many weapons banned by the legislation can be rendered “SAFE Act compliant” through modifications, Barrett said the new alterations make the guns less of a threat to public safety because they no longer have the defined features of assault weapons.
However, Losie scoffed at that argument, noting he is selling numerous SAFE Act compliant AR-15s and pointing out demand for the gun has soared because of the SAFE Act.
Worcester Town Board member Dave Parker, an advocate for gun rights, said he has acquaintances who sold guns defined as assault weapons by the SAFE act because they strongly disagreed with the registration requirement.
Parker said the SAFE Act had the unintended consequence of increasing the trove of weapons in homes across the state.
“It’s pure Cuomo politics,” he said. He noted one neighbor was so perturbed with the legislation that he opted to relocate outside New York.
A group calling for the repeal of the SAFE Act, NY2a Grassroots Coalition, called the law’s implementation “a disaster.”
The group predicts that registration requirement rates will be less than 10 percent, making New York the backdrop for what NY2a said will be one of the nation’s largest acts of civil disobedience involving the general public.
NY2A vowed to work to defeat Cuomo and other political office holders who support the SAFE Act.