by Joseph P. Tartaro Executive Editor
One week after the New York state legislature had adjourned its regular session, the states leadership troika pulled lawmakers back for extra innings on June 20 and 21 to pass a modified version of Republican Gov. George E. Patakis sweeping multi-faceted gun proposal.
The anti-gun media over-reported the implications of the measure. What passed was a far cry from what Pataki had originally proposed in March. In fact, anti-gun activists are already whining that it didnt go far enough.
Gun Weeks report and analysis of S-8234 (A-11535) will follow an explanation of how passage was possible. However, we recommend that every interested person obtain a copy of the actual bill and study it. Hard copies are available from lawmakers Albany or district offices, or on-line at: http://assembly.state.ny.us/cgi-bin/showtest?billnum=S08234.
A summary of the changes includes:
Passage of the omnibus gun law was made possible only because
of a deal between the three kingpins of state powerthe governor,
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-New York City) and Senate Majority
Leader Joseph Bruno (R-Saratoga)and a cave-in by enough
Long Island GOP senators to pass a gun bill in the Republican-controlled
For the past 20 or 30 years, Democrats, who have a big majority in the state Assembly, have promoted and even passed anti-gun legislation only to have it fail because the GOP-controlled Senate either bottled it up in committee or rejected it outright. The dike holding back anti-gun measures in the state, even against powerful anti-gun governors like Nelson Rockefeller, Mario Cuomo and Hugh Carey, has traditionally been the GOP Senate. Whenever anti-gun measures have passed in New York, it has been because enough Republicansusually from Long Island and New York Cityabandoned their constituents and the rest of the party.
Thats what happened in June.
Armed with questionable polls claiming that 70% of the people in every county of the state supported the Pataki gun initiative and bolstered by a powerful anti-gun mediaespecially the rabidly anti-gun Newsday which dominates populous Long Island, Pataki, Silver and Bruno met behind closed doors and put together a deal that motivated or browbeat enough GOP senators to change horses. Once the deal was set, the Senate was called back to vote on June 20 and the Assembly on June 21.
In the meanwhile, the final language was modified to track existing federal law as much as possible, largely at the insistence of Senate Codes Chairman Dale Volker (R-Depew). Volkers committee was bypassed as much as possible because of his and committee members objections to the whole package.
The Senates special session vote of 39-20 was the key, with all the GOP senators in the New York City area and Long Island voting for it. The only upstate Republican to vote for the bill was Bruno, who had to do it or give up his leadership post. The votes against it came entirely from upstate, including Sen. Mary Lou Rath (R-Amherst), who had been added as a sponsor of the original bill, and Democrats like Sen. Bill Stachowski of Lackawanna.
Linked to the guncontrol measure were other major criminal justice reforms, including the first significant changes in three decades to the states sexual assault laws. Those changes will strengthen penalties aimed at sexual predators, especially date rapists and child abusers.
In addition, a school violence measure, in the making since last years Columbine High School shootings in Colorado, will make it a felony for students to assault teachers and fellow students, while also requiring new teachers and other school workers to be fingerprinted for criminal background checks.
Schools will also not be permitted to let workers who abuse children to silently resign; officials will now face criminal charges for not reporting incidents of child abuse.
The agreements came after a frenzied day of closed-door deal-making on a host of politically popular measures that both legislative houses were lobbying for, to give their members something to promote as they hit the re-election campaign trail this fall.
Earlier, critics had accused Pataki of merely trying to restore his national image after having just tried to keep a GOP presidential candidate, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), off the states primary ballot. Others said Patakis plan was designed to give him national status, possibly even as a GOP vice presidential choice. In the end, Pataki got no such benefits from his anti-gun scheme, and many believe he may have wounded the entire GOP ticket.
The final bill requires that firearms dealers include gun locks with all sales of handguns, rifles and shotguns, and that stores be posted with a warning sign that must also be attached to or included in the container for each gun. The message reads: The use of a locking device or safety lock is only one aspect of responsible firearm storage. For increased safety firearms should be stored unloaded and locked in a location that is both separate from their ammunition and inaccessible to children and any other unauthorized person.
The measure also defines gun shows and requires that at least one dealer authorized to conduct NICS checks conduct such background checks for every sales or transfer at the gun show. Show locations must also be posted with background check warnings.
The package mirrors federal law by banning the sale and possession of so-called assault weapons and large-capacity ammunition-feeding devices manufactured after Sept. 13, 1994. And, like the federal law, possession, use for all legal purposes, sale and/or transfer of the same guns and ammunition feeding devices manufactured before the cut-off date are still legal.
The measure also raises the age at which an individual can apply for and obtain a license to possess and carry a handgun from 18 to 21 years. (Federal law already prohibits handgun purchases by persons under the age of 21.) However, the new state law provides exceptions for veterans of US military, Coast Guard or state National Guard Service.
It also provides an exception for training and organized competition by amending the penal law to provide for unlicensed use of handguns at organized indoor or outdoor ranges by underage persons who are supervised and shoot handguns licensed to individuals who are present during the event.
Probably the plans most ambitious elementand one which does not directly impact law-abiding gunownerswill require gunmakers to test-fire all new handguns before they are sold in New York and send the bullets and shell casings to the state police, which would record their ballistics. This part of the law does not take effect until March 2001; state police must promulgate regulations by Oct. 1, 2000.
The school violence package requires districts to formulate specific school safety plans, and gives whistle-blower protections for school workers who report acts of violence.
New teachers would be subjected to fingerprinting for state and national criminal background checks. Additional penalties for assaults on teachers and students also were agreed to.
On other issues, the legislature gave final approval to a measure proposed by Assemblyman Robin L. Schimminger (D-Kenmore) that requires bounty hunters to be licensed and trained to operate in New York.