New York's legislature voted Thursday to ban anyone under age 21 from buying or possessing a semi-automatic rifle, a major change to state firearm laws pushed through less than three weeks after an 18-year-old used one of the guns to kill 10 people at a supermarket in Buffalo.
The bill raising the age limit is the most significant part of a package of gun control measures announced earlier this week by Democratic legislative leaders and Gov. Kathy Hochul.
Other new legislation will restrict civilian purchases of bullet-resistant armor, which was worn by the killer in Buffalo, and require new guns to be equipped with microstamping technology that can help law enforcement investigators trace bullets to particular firearms.
The age limit bill passed the Senate along party lines, 43-20, and in the Assembly 102-47, and will now head to Hochul's desk for her signature.
New York already requires people to be 21 to possess a handgun. Younger people would still be allowed to have other types of rifles and shotguns under the new law, but would be unable to buy the type of fast-firing rifles used by the 18-year-old gunmen in the mass shootings in Buffalo and at a Texas elementary school.
Besides raising the legal purchase age to 21, the bill would also require anyone buying a semi-automatic rifle to get a license — something now only required for handguns.
Many Republicans opposed the new gun limitations, arguing they would inconvenience law-abiding firearms owners and could be easily circumvented by people determined to get weapons.
Sen. Gustavo Rivera, a Bronx Democrat, said he had no problem putting up obstacles.
“It is meant to be a hassle to those folks who might want to get their hands quickly on something with which they could mass murder people," he said.
The age limit change would largely impact areas outside New York City, which already requires permits to possess, carry and purchase any type of firearm and prohibits most applicants under 21.
New York would join a handful of states — including Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Vermont and Washington - that require buyers to be at least 21 instead of 18 to purchase some types of long guns. Similar legislation has been proposed in Utah.
Legal fights over the legislation are expected. New York's law limiting who can get a handgun license is already the subject of a lawsuit now before the U.S. Supreme Court.
California's attempt to raise the legal buying age for semi-automatic weapons has also been challenged.
On May 11, a U.S. appeals court panel in northern California ruled 2-1 that the state’s ban on the sale of semi-automatic weapons to adults under 21 is unconstitutional. The two judges who ruled in the majority were part of Republican President Donald Trump’s wave of conservative-approved nominees that reshaped the famously liberal court.
The National Rifle Association is also challenging Florida's ban on the sale of rifles and other firearms to adults under age 21, which was passed in the wake of a 2018 shooting that killed 17 students and staff at a high school in Parkland.
Semi-automatic rifles automatically load each bullet after firing, although firing requires pulling the trigger for each round. That makes it possible for mass murderers to kill more people in a short amount of time.
Previously, people as young as 16 could possess long guns like rifles and shotguns without a license in New York, although they had to be 18 to buy one from a federally licensed firearms dealer.
Sen. Alexis Weik, a Republican of Long Island, pointed out that an 18 year old could still travel to another state and buy a semi-automatic rifle.
Sen. Kevin Thomas, a Long Island Democrat and one of the bill’s sponsors, replied, “Are you advocating for federal gun control? Because that what’s needed.”
New York lawmakers were also passing legislation expanding the list of people who can apply for an extreme risk protection order, a court order that can temporarily prohibit someone from purchasing or possessing a firearm if they are believed to be a danger to themselves or others.
“Even as we take action to protect New Yorkers, we recognize that this is a nationwide problem. I once again urge Congress to seize this moment and pass meaningful gun violence prevention measures. We have no time to waste,” Hochul said in a statement.
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