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Hochul, legislature agree to tighten NY’s gun laws in wake of Buffalo shooting

New York Governor Kathy Hochul holds a gun magazine during a press conference detailing efforts to combat domestic terrorism and gun violence on May 18, 2022.
WAMC screenshot
New York Governor Kathy Hochul holds a gun magazine during a press conference detailing efforts to combat domestic terrorism and gun violence on May 18, 2022.

New York Governor Kathy Hochul and legislative leaders have agreed on a package of gun control measures that includes banning the purchase of assault style weapons by New Yorkers under the age of 21.

The measures require that anyone who wants to purchase a semiautomatic rifle must first obtain a license, and that the minimum age to buy the weapon would be 21.

The alleged gunmen in the mass shootings at a Buffalo grocery store and at the school in Texas were both 18 and had recently purchased AR-15s.

A similar law in California was struck down by a federal appeals court earlier in May, which said it was unconstitutional.

Governor Hochul, speaking before the details of the bill were announced, says she won’t let that ruling deter her.

“I’m not going to let my fear of losing a court case to stop me from what I think is correct for New Yorkers and will protect them,” Hochul said on May 25th. “You may get a judge who actually cares and has common sense, who would understand that these are not punitive measures.”

Other bills would make the buying of bulletproof vests illegal unless they are purchased by people who are in law enforcement or other related professions. Both alleged shooters in Buffalo and Texas bought and wore body armor.

Social media networks operating in New York would have to adopt transparent policies on how they respond to hate speech on their platforms and make available easily accessible ways to report hateful conduct.

Another bill authorizes the state Division of Criminal Justice Services to determine if microstamping of semi-automatic pistols is technologically feasible, and if so to establish a program to implement the technology. Hochul says microstamping creates a “fingerprint” on the bullets that can help law enforcement to more easily track the guns and potentially link the weapons to other crimes. But she says gun manufactures have been resistant.

“The industry needs to wake up and say ‘we’ll be partners in this,’” Hochul said. “Because I would think that given the liability involved, that they want to do everything they can to make sure that their products are not used in the commission of any crime, and certainly not in the commission of a mass slaughter of innocent children.”

And, the state’s red flag laws would be tightened to require that police and DA’s file extreme risk protection orders to seize firearms whenever they receive credible information that someone might be a danger to themselves or others.

The red flag law was not invoked when the alleged Buffalo shooter threatened to commit a murder-suicide at his high school one year earlier, in 2021.

In a statement, New York Republican Party Chair Nick Langworthy criticized the measures, saying in a statement that “In typical Albany fashion, Kathy Hochul is following in the footsteps of her mentor, Andrew Cuomo, and focused on making cheap headlines for her primary instead of making New Yorkers safe.” Langworthy says if Hochul and legislative leaders cared about shooting victims, they’d repeal New York’s bail reform laws.

“This isn’t an appropriate response that will result in any meaningful change," said Republican Assembly Minority Leader Will Barclay in a statement. "New York Democrats lost any credibility on issues of public safety a long time ago. They don’t know what works. They prioritize the concerns of career criminals over crime victims. And they have undermined law-enforcement professionals at every possible opportunity. We need to take steps to prevent horrific tragedies like the ones we’ve seen in Brooklyn, Buffalo and Uvalde from ever happening again. Literally, every legislator in Albany wants to meet that goal. But the steps need to be effective and they need toinvolve more voices than those who have failed so frequently and so miserably at protecting New Yorkers. The SAFE Act made headlines, but made no one safer. And the same will apply to what Democrats offered today.”

The measures are expected to be acted on before the legislature ends its 2022 session, sometime later this week.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of public radio stations in New York state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.
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