Lawsuits, protests, and a mass rebellion in dozens of counties are the currents that have coursed through New York since parts of the hastily passed SAFE Act, which opponents say impinges on Second Amendment rights, went into effect last month.
"There have been demonstrations all across the state," said Stephen Aldstadt, president of the Shooters Committee on Political Education (SCOPE), a New York-based nonprofit that advocates for gun rights. "We just had a major event at the state Capitol where Donald Trump actually came and was the main speaker."
The Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act (SAFE) was passed in January 2013 on the heels of closed-door meetings between Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo and various state lawmakers and officials, and one month after the December 2012 school shooting in Newtown, Ct., where Adam Lanza shot and killed 20 children and six adults.
The law redefines what constitutes an assault weapon, requires registration of those guns with government officials, and mandates the creation of a database to collect and store the registrations.
Governing boards and commissions around the state have sent resolutions to lawmakers, with some denying use of their local county seals to help implement the new law. Dozens of counties and hundreds of municipalities have petitioned for its repeal. Several more have said outright that they're not going to enforce the law in their local communities, no matter what state lawmakers say.
But speedy repeal isn't likely, at least in the current political environment.
"The New York Assembly is controlled by a Democratic contingent," Aldstadt told Newsmax. "Of course the governor is not going to go along with any repeal."
NRA-ILA, the legislative tracking arm of the National Rifle Association, notes that Cuomo sent the SAFE bill to the state Senate with a "message of necessity" that bypassed the normal three-day waiting period for legislation. Senate lawmakers had 20 minutes to read the bill, the state Assembly passed it the next day, and Cuomo signed it into law immediately.
But the gun registration part of the law went into effect last month.
Thousands of gun owners in New York who failed to register their weapons by the April 15 deadline — and who continue to insist they're not going to register them — have suddenly found themselves considered lawbreakers.
Moreover, arrests are being made, said Leah Barrett, executive director of New Yorkers Against Gun Violence, a group that finds SAFE is working well and that it's a necessary law.
"The law is working to keep guns out of the wrong hands. Nearly 2,000 people had been charged with crimes under New York SAFE either at arrest or arraignment from March 2013 to February 2014," Barrett said.
"[SAFE also] enabled the state to cross-check the list of involuntarily committed New Yorkers against the list of pistol permit holders, alerting local authorities to 83 individuals with active pistol permits who are disqualified under federal law from possessing firearms."
But the protests and lawsuits are having an impact.
Some of the SAFE provisions have already been overturned by courts. In December, the District Court of the Western District of New York overturned the law's stipulation that limited magazines to seven rounds, calling it arbitrary. Another portion of the law, requiring state police to conduct widespread background checks, was suspended because law enforcement didn't have any way of performing those checks.
Meanwhile, Second Amendment supporters are actively campaigning to toss the rest of the law.
Robert Schultz, the founder of We the People of New York, a nonprofit that seeks to curb government overreach, is in the process of collecting the signatures of 1,256 plaintiffs he's identified in the state who will join his appeal against what he calls the unconstitutional way SAFE was passed — the "message of necessity" that pushed it through the state Legislature, absent careful consideration and citizen input.
"It's an illegal law," Carlene Marshall, one plaintiff in that lawsuit, told the Watertown Daily Times. "They didn't need to pass it in the middle of the night and not have anyone read it."
The New York State Rifle and Pistol Association — with the support of the New York State Sheriff's Association — filed a suit to repeal the SAFE Act based on gun-rights arguments, asserting that the entire measure violates the Second Amendment.
In another suit, the Second Amendment Foundation joined with the Long Island Firearms and SCOPE to file in federal court a petition to repeal SAFE. And the private Tresmond Law Firm filed two separate suits against SAFE — the first on behalf of a gun dealer and the second on behalf of two individual gun owners from Erie County.
Meanwhile, the database issue continues to raise objections.
Cherylyn Harley LeBon, co-chair of the Project 21 National Advisory Board and a former senior counsel for the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, decried yet another database collecting personal information, on top of other federal and state initiatives like Obamacare and Common Core educational standards.
The SAFE Act is simply more of the same, she said.
"In New York it's the same thing, where lawful gun owners will be forced to provide to state police their information, which will be used . . . to create a database," she said. "We've got a dangerous trend here with the creation of these databases. Every American should be asking, why?"
The law firm La Reddola, Lester & Associates filed in federal court for a preliminary injunction to SAFE based on a challenge to the registry and database aspect of the law. The court dismissed the challenge in mid-April, and the law firm said it would refile the claim in state court within 60 days.
Noncompliance with the law "is pretty widespread," Aldstadt says. "It's hard to get an actual number of who is registering because the law said that the names of people who register are not part of public records. You can't FOIA them."
That means police in the state aren't releasing any hard numbers on registrations.
Aldstadt said law enforcement could release the simple data — the total number of registrations minus the names — without violating Freedom of Information Act exemption laws. But he said they are likely withholding those figures because the numbers are an embarrassment.
"It's hard to estimate, but I've heard that between 3,000 and 5,000 have registered," Aldstadt said. "That's about a half-percent compliance rate, and that's one of the reasons [police] are not giving out the numbers."
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