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Three weeks after Buffalo mass shooting, Gov. Hochul signs gun bills into law

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.
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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.

Less than a month after the mass shooting at a Buffalo supermarket, New York Governor Kathy Hochul signed ten gun control bills into law Monday, including one that raises the age to buy a semi-automatic rifle from 18 to 21.

Hochul’s hometown of Buffalo is grieving in the aftermath of a racially motivated shooting at the Tops market that killed 10 African-Americans.

“I’m speaking to you today as the governor of a state in mourning,” the Democrat said. “And the citizen of a nation in crisis.”

The bills are aimed at closing some loopholes that allowed the alleged 18-year-old gunman to purchase a semi-automatic rifle, a bulletproof vest, and evade the state’s red flag laws.

Under the measures, law enforcement will now be required to ask a judge for an order to seize the guns of anyone they think might be a threat to themselves or others. The alleged shooter threatened to commit a murder-suicide at his high school in 2021, but the red flag law was never used.

Hochul says the purchase of body armor will be banned, except for law enforcement and people in professions that could be in danger. And no one under 21 will be allowed to buy semi-automatic rifles in New York.

“So no 18-year-old can walk in on their birthday, and walk out with an AR-15,” Hochul said. “Those days are over.”

Other bills signed into law require gun manufacturers to allow for the micro-stamping of bullets, to better trace weapons used in commission of crimes. Another closes a loophole that allowed the category of “any other weapon” which Hochul says are essentially guns, but are deliberately designed to evade gun control laws.

Hochul was joined by legislative leaders, Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown, and state Attorney General Tish James, who says she will vigorously fight any challenges to the measures.

“To all those drunk with power who think that they will challenge these laws,” James said. “The Second Amendment is not absolute.”

A California law that raised the age to purchase a semi-automatic rifle to age 21 was struck down by a federal court.

Hochul says while New York responded rapidly to respond to the mass shootings, national action is needed. She says decades ago, car accidents were the number one killer of children in America, and the nation responded with seat belt laws and other safety measures that were unpopular at the time.

“We took away the freedom to ride in a car without a seat belt,” Hochul said. “It was a very big deal when it happened.”

But she says people adapted.

“And guess what? We saved the lives of thousands of children,” the governor said. “So it was clearly worth it.”

Now, more children die from gun violence than from any other cause, and she says the nation has to act.

The governor says it is “a moment of reckoning” for the country, and history will judge our actions.

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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