Albany — A group opposed to New York’s two-year-old SAFE Act gun law says registration data shows only a fraction of gun owners complied with a requirement to register firearms reclassified as assault weapons.
NY2A, which advocates for Second Amendment rights, says newly reported data show only 23,847 people registered 44,485 firearms. Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the architect of the law that has been widely opposed upstate, estimated New Yorkers owned one million so-called assault weapons before the 2013 measure banned their sales in New York.
The registration requirement applies to semi-automatic weapons with a detachable magazine that have a single military-style feature, such as a pistol grip.
NY2A’s co-founder, Jake Palmateer, says data shows the SAFE Act has been a failure, with only about 5 percent of the estimated number of semiautomatic firearms that would qualify as assault weapons under the law being registered.
Critics of the SAFE Act contend that many of the registrations came from law enforcement officers in the state who were required to register their firearms.
Cuomo has called the measures, including a ban on large magazines, common sense.
The SAFE Act was enacted quickly by the Legislature on the heels of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings in Newtown, Conn. Cuomo used a rarely imposed “message of necessity” in passing the bill without public debate.
SAFE Act opponents and the media had long sought information through the state’s Freedom of Information law on the number of registrations. State police had rejected the requests, calling the information exempt from public disclosure.
But radio host Bill Robinson, through Rochester-area attorney Paloma Capanna, sued the state last July after his requests were denied and then ignored. The state Supreme Court sided with Robinson, ruling that while names within the database were protected, there was no reason to withhold data on the number of registrations since that wouldn’t compromise confidentiality.
The state declined to appeal the trial court ruling and provided Capanna with the numbers late last month.
“I’m grinning from ear to ear,” Capanna said after the release of the numbers.
Law enforcement officials had previously estimated there could be at least one million firearms now classified as assault weapons under the SAFE Act owned by New Yorkers. If that estimate is accurate, the registration numbers suggest an overwhelming non-compliance with the registration provision.
“I’m not surprised by these numbers,” said Stephen Aldstadt, president of SCOPE (Shooters Committee on Political Education). “This law was passed in the middle of the night, with no input from law enforcement, mental health professionals or any other stakeholder. The majority of county and local governments have called for its repeal. This is an example of a bad law and it undermines the citizens’ respect for the law.”
Legislation that would either alter the SAFE Act or repeal it entirely was not passed in the recent legislative session. The Republican-led state Senate last month passed a bill eliminating several provisions of the law, but it wasn’t addressed by the state Assembly.
“Many people have been calling for a full repeal of the SAFE Act. It would appear the people have just bypassed the Legislature and simply repealed it on their own,” said Tom King, president of the New York State Rifle and Pistol Association.
The bulk of the registrations – about 40 percent – came from gun owners living in the five boroughs New York City, as well as Long Island and Westchester County.