Gun-rights proponents expect legal challenge to state gun law
CAPITOL Thousands of gun rights advocates signed a petition against New York’s new firearms restrictions on Wednesday as opponents of the new rules said they expect legal challenges to the tightest-in-the-nation rules signed into law a day earlier.
A Republican state senator from Saratoga said her online petition for repealing the provisions quickly drew more than 37,000 signatures since she posted it Tuesday. If upcoming legislative attempts at repeal fail, Sen. Kathleen Marchione said she’ll go to court to fight restrictions she says are unconstitutional.
“We’re certainly going to wait some time and see how many people sign this petition who feel as strongly as we do,” Marchione said. The freshman Republican said she recently took an oath to uphold the state and federal constitutions that include the right to bear arms. “We’ll look at legislation, and if it’s not successful we’ll be looking at legal action,” she said.
Besides banning certain semi-automatic rifles and large magazines, the state law requires owners to register within a year any once-legal guns banned under the law. It outlaws bringing those guns and clips into New York from elsewhere.
“Listening to the people in my district one of the things they’re concerned about is registering their guns now that have been banned,” Marchione said. “They’re very concerned the next step might be confiscation.”
Administration officials have estimated there are 1 million formerly legal rifles owned by New Yorkers that now must be registered.
The law also institutes mandatory background checks for ammunition purchases, tries to keep guns out of the hands of mentally ill people who may be a threat and increases prison penalties for gun crimes.
The head of the state’s National Rifle Association affiliate said he expects other legal challenges, though the NRA’s lawyers were focused Wednesday on President Obama’s national gun control proposals. “It’s not going to be today. It’s going to be a couple of days,” said Tom King, president of the New York Rifle & Pistol Association. He said there are about 4.75 million gun owners among New York’s 19 million residents, and getting any sort of repeal through the heavily Democratic assembly is nearly impossible.
In western New York, a lawyer said thousands of gun owners have contacted him to join a class-action lawsuit. Attorney James Tresmond of Hamburg told WBEN radio they are looking at filing a federal suit in three to four weeks.
The law, starting when Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed it Tuesday, defined as illegal assault weapons semi-automatic rifles that accept detachable magazines and have one additional military-style feature such as a pistol grip, flash suppressor or bayonet mount. The old law required two such features.
“Other states have an assault weapons ban. All of them are sort of limited and they vary,” said Fordham Law Professor Nicholas Johnson, author of several articles about gun rights. They include New Jersey, California, Connecticut and Maryland, he said. “It reflects basically a notion or designation, not a technical design but a political one, that emerged in the late 1990s.”
One particular provision unique to the New York law limits legal magazines to seven bullets, down from the common 10-bullet magazine, Johnson said. The law also calls for owners to sell elsewhere their formerly legal large magazines, which hold more than 10 bullets and were bought before 1994. That’s probably unique also, he said.
“I’d expect some sort of challenge in New York,” Johnson said.
In a 2008 ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court seemed to indicate that guns protected by the constitution are those in common use. Johnson said New York could face a challenge from someone arguing there are probably close to 10 million AR-15 type semi-automatic rifles in common use in the U.S.