When her son, Nicholas, started preschool in Elmont last week, Michaelle Solages spoke to his teachers about the school’s active-shooter drills, and learned that they tell students to pretend to hide.
“It broke my heart,” said Solages, the state assemblywoman for the area, noting that it’s important for New Yorkers to talk about gun violence and how to curb it.
That, in part, is why she voted for two gun-control measures that Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed into law on Sept. 3, following a mass shooting in Odessa, Texas, that killed seven people, she said.
The first bill — which was introduced by State Sen. Anna Kaplan, a Democrat from Great Neck, and Assemblywoman Pamela Hunter, a Democrat from Syracuse — requires part-time state residents applying for gun permits to sign waivers allowing New York law enforcement officials to review their out-of-state mental health records. Under previous law, the governor said, officials often could not access mental health records, even for those who were dangerously mentally ill, and the National Instant Background Check System only includes information about individuals who have been involuntarily committed to mental hospitals.
New York state residents, meanwhile, are required to undergo extensive background checks before they receive gun permits, and under the state’s SAFE Act, mental health professionals must report patients who are “likely to engage in conduct that would result in serious harm to self or others.”
Those individuals may be prohibited from acquiring guns. They include anyone who has threatened or attempted suicide, or who has exhibited homicidal and violent behavior, according to MentalIllnessPolicy.org.
“This was a loophole that really needed to be looked at and needed to be closed,” Kaplan said, adding that she thought everyone in the state should have to undergo the same standards to buy a gun.
In Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott tweeted that the shooter had previously failed a background check and did not go through one to buy the gun that he used in the shooting. The tweet did not say why the 36-year-old Odessa resident failed the background check or how he obtained the rifle, but The Austin American-Statesman previously reported that he was arrested in 2001 for evading arrest and trespassing, and received deferred adjudication after pleading guilty to both misdemeanor charges. Under Texas law, however, only felony convictions or domestic violence misdemeanors prevent people from legally buying guns.
New York, meanwhile, prohibits those convicted of specific misdemeanors, defined as “serious offenses,” from obtaining gun licenses. Those offenses include stalking, child endangerment, sex offenses, assault, strangulation, menacing, trespassing and harassment, according to the Giffords Law Center.
“It’s important for us to acknowledge that we have a Second Amendment right,” Kaplan said, “but we have to ensure that gun owners can handle the responsibility of handling a gun.”
The other bill allows law enforcement officials to know who has applied for or owns a gun. Currently, handgun license holders and applicants can request that their information be exempt from public disclosure. As a result, officials say, police are put in danger when they respond to a call, because they are unsure of who, precisely, may have a gun.
“When police officers respond to calls, they can best keep themselves and others safe if they know what they’re walking into,” said Assemblywoman Amy Paulin, a Democrat from Brooklyn who sponsored the bill, “particularly whether or not there’s a gun in the home.”
“We need to make sure that our police officers have every tool in their tool kit when they respond to a call,” Solages added, saying she wants to ensure that every police officer can go home at night.
“At the end of the day, we’re a modern society,” Solages said, “and we have to ensure that our communities are safe.”