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Update: Further Dispatches from New York’s War on Guns

Charlie T Waite

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Speaking about her new gun control legislation, New York State Governor Kathy Hochul claimed that “we took swift and thoughtful action to keep New Yorkers safe…. we will continue leading the way forward and implementing common sense gun safety legislation,” adding “our smart, sensible gun laws will go into effect as planned … on September 1.” 

We’ve written before about how recent gun control measures are being implemented in the Empire State. By now, it is evident that the “smart, sensible” and “common sense” law has given rise to a host of unforeseen consequences that inhibit licensed gun owners and responsible citizens engaged in legitimate activities rather than the violent criminals and illegal guns causing the crisis in public safety.  

One such casualty of Hochul’s “thoughtful” legislation was the Chautauqua County American Legion’s annual 9/11 remembrance ceremony, traditionally conducted at the county courthouse. Because the law prohibits the possession of a firearm at a “sensitive location” (a long list that includes any place owned or under the control of a federal, state or local government, like courthouses), this year the Honor Guard’s 21-gun salute had to be moved to offsite private property, a local gas station across the street. The commander of the American Legion Post points out the additional repercussions: “[n]ot only does this law affect ceremonies such as the 9/11 ceremony, but [it] also will prevent Memorial Day ceremonies, and most importantly, military honors at the graveside of our veterans.”

Historical reenactment events in public parks and other “sensitive locations” are on hold now, too. News reports indicate that Fort Klock Historic Restoration has cancelled its event in St. Johnsville, NY in early October because of the new gun ban. The group is a nonprofit “educational institution chartered by the New York State Education Department Board of Regents,” with the primary goal of preserving and accurately interpreting the history of a unique national landmark that dates back to the Revolutionary War.

Although Governor Hochul’s office has allegedly advised that historical reenactments are not affected by the new law and “there should be no concern” in proceeding, an attorney consulted by the newspaper warns that the statute nonetheless applies to antique firearms brought into a sensitive location. With respect to the governor’s assurance, he responds that “[n]o lawyer would recommend an individual to follow the word of any leader or individual when the law is very clear that this is illegal.”

Another murky area is whether gun shows held in publicly-owned spaces like fairgrounds and convention centers are permitted under the law. The largest gun show in the state was held in the New York State Fairgrounds in Syracuse this month, and one organizer indicated that the new law was “confusing and hard to interpret.” The Governor’s office was (again) asked to clarify whether the location fell within the “sensitive locations” category, and in a non-answer answer responded that: “The new gun safety law allows gun shows to occur, and organizations hosting these events should work with property owners and vendors to ensure they can legally and safely proceed.”   

What is undisputable under the law is that owners and lessees of private property that falls within the definition of a “sensitive location” have no choice at all about guns being banned on their own premises. In New York City, police have contacted licensed gun owners to remind them that possession or carrying a firearm in any place the legislation designates as a “sensitive location” is forbidden – even as “major crime skyrockets …in NYC.” The police letter states, “If your business is in a sensitive location, … you are no longer able to lawfully possess a firearm at that location,” and directs owners to turn in their gun at “your local precinct in order for it to be safeguarded for you.” Those who are reluctant to entrust their firearms to the police are advised to make arrangements with a federal firearms licensee for storage, or remove the gun to a location where possession and storage are not prohibited.

Noncompliance with this premises ban, like the failure to ensure that an event or activity may legally proceed under the “smart” and “thoughtful” location restrictions, invites prosecution and conviction for criminal possession of a gun, a Class E felony punishable by up to four years in prison.   

Intended or not, these consequences are all part of a politically motivated agenda that views firearms as unacceptable and Second Amendment rights as unnecessary, in the same way that patriotic observances are considered to be faintly ridiculous, if not worse. Commenting on the cancelled historical reenactments, no less than the editorial board of the New York Daily News sneered that while “the geniuses up in Albany should look carefully at the law and clarify any ambiguity,” “the pretending-to-be-wounded reenactors should stop complaining and realize that no one in black helicopters or jackboots is coming to shut down their quaint little costume dramas.”

One New York State politician is unsurprised by these developments, observing that Hochul’s law was enacted in a “middle of the night” rush, “without public comment and without the chance for lawmakers to fully understand the implications of the law,” and absent evidence that legal gun owners play any part in New York’s violent crimes. Now, just days after the law took effect, state legislators are backtracking to patch up problems in the “smart, sensible” and “thoughtful” law (here and here, for instance), with a looming cloud of litigation already on the horizon. 

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