Sweeney: Crossbow ‘superior weapon’

Albany — When legislation that would have allowed the DEC to decide when and where crossbows could be used failed to advance out of an Assembly committee, crossbow advocates were livid.

And they blamed one lawmaker in particular: Assemblyman Robert Sweeney, the chairman of the environmental conservation committee where the bill died a legislative death.

Sweeney, in an interview with New York Outdoor News last month, said those sportsmen are pretty much on target.

“That’s not unfair, quite honestly,” the Suffolk County lawmaker said. “I’m the chairman of the committee so decisions about putting items on agendas, that’s up to me.”

The veteran Democratic assemblyman outlined his philosophical opposition to any “superior weapon” being placed within the regular archery season – a seemingly unwavering stance that doesn’t bode well for the chances of the crossbow bill advancing out of the committee and to the Assembly floor for a vote next year.

But Sweeney also incorrectly contended that the previous legislation that expired last year allowed crossbows within the archery season, a decision he said was made by the DEC.

In actuality, the previous crossbow bill established use of the implements during the regular firearms and late muzzleloader seasons, did not include crossbows during the archery season and did not involve any DEC decision-making.

“A couple years ago my committee, with me as chairman and the members, voted to report out a crossbow bill which subsequently went on to become law,” he said. “I did ask for a two-year sunset on the bill because of concerns I had that eventually what would happen is that crossbows would be put in the archery season, where I don’t think they belong. Crossbows are a superior weapon; they don’t belong in the archery season.

“And sure enough, that’s what happened.”

That, actually, didn’t happen: the legislation approved two years ago specified crossbow use only within the regular firearms and late muzzleloader seasons. And it didn’t put any of the decision-making in the hands of DEC fish and wildlife officials.

That apparent confusion aside, Sweeney’s firm position on the crossbow issue serves as a red flag for supporters of expanded crossbow use within the regular archery season.

Philosophically, Sweeney said he’s opposed to the introduction of any “superior weapon” to be used by any sportsmen during the regular archery season. That’s why a crossbow use bill last year that would have extended crossbow use within the firearms and late muzzleloader seasons included a provision that would have prohibited the DEC from moving forward with the state’s first-ever youth deer hunt.

That hunt was set for Columbus Day weekend – during the regular archery season – and allowed youths 14 and 15 to hunt with firearms.

The bill was ultimately vetoed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, which paved the way for the youth deer hunt but at the same time put an end to crossbow use, since the existing legislation expired Dec. 31.

“The youth hunt is being used as a smokescreen,” Sweeney said, reiterating his position against firearms use during the archery season by any hunter. “The issue with the youth hunt is putting rifles in the bow season. The fact that it was a youth hunt is not the problem. We’ve passed innumerable bills in the time I’ve been chairman of the (environmental conservation) committee to expand youth hunting.”

While the crossbow legislation which would have allowed DEC officials to determine where the implements could be used passed the Senate overwhelmingly, it never moved out of the environmental conservation committee chaired by Sweeney.

He admitted that if it reached the Assembly floor it likely would have been approved and forwarded to the governor’s office for his signature.

“I don’t know that it would have passed out of committee; I haven’t taken a head count among the committee members on this issue,” he said. “But once it reaches the Assembly floor, through multiple committees, there’s a pretty good chance (of passage).”

Sweeney also stopped well short of voicing any support for allowing senior and physically challenged hunters crossbow use within the regular archery season.

“We know that was a problem, I believe, in Pennsylvania,” he said. “They allowed for that provision and all of a sudden they had a gazillion people who turned out to be disabled because they got a letter from their doctor.”

He also wasn’t swayed by surrounding states’ (Pennsylvania and Ohio) liberalized crossbow regulations, including within the regular archery season.

“I’ve followed it to some extent; it’s always interesting to hear those issues,” he said. “But we still have to do what we think is right for New York state. What works and doesn’t work someplace else may still not be appropriate here.”

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