In the wee hours last Saturday morning, after approving the $168.3 billion state budget, Albany legislators also passed stand-alone gun legislation. The purpose of the bill, which now awaits Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s signature, is to ensure that domestic violence offenders do not have access to firearms. It will go into effect 60 days after Cuomo signs it.
Forty senators voted in favor of the bill, and 19 opposed it. The Assembly approved it by an even wider margin, 94 to 34.
Originally part of the budget, the measure was removed because, according to Assemblyman Mike Montesano, a Republican from Glen Head, the spending plan would otherwise not have passed. “The upstate areas wouldn’t vote for anything like this,” he said. “This piece of legislation, like others, didn’t belong in the budget.”
An Assembly memorandum in support of the legislation ties domestic violence offenders to gun violence and the deaths it causes. “In nine of the 10 deadliest mass shootings in United States history, including Las Vegas and Sutherland Springs,” it reads, “the shooter had an existing record of committing violence against women, threatening violence against women, or harassing or disparaging women. . . . When an abusive partner is permitted to access firearms, the risk that the other partner will be killed increases fivefold.”
Under the law, those convicted of serious misdemeanors would have their gun licenses and weapons taken away. “A law already requires that New York judges order the license suspended, and all weapons removed for those found guilty of a felony,” said State Sen. Charles Lavine, a Democrat from Glen Cove. “But they couldn’t do this to those convicted of misdemeanor assault and menacing until now. The menacing is usually directed toward family members.”
The bill also requires that rifles and shotguns be handed over to law enforcement when an order of protection has been issued and when there is a conviction for a serious offense. In the past, only hand guns were required to be surrendered.
Montesano voted against the bill. “They expanded the law to include coercion, criminal tampering, disobeying a court order and harassment,” he said, “but that’s only if committed against a family member. Why do we have two separate classes of people?”
“A harassment is an argument that someone could lose their Second Amendment rights over,” Montesano added. “And as for criminal trespass — I’m on your lawn and you tell me to leave and I won’t. I’m charged with criminal trespass and get my guns taken away. These are some of the types of misdemeanors in the law that are just too much.”
The new bill is a small win for Lavine, who has been working on strengthening anti-violence legislation since he became an assemblyman in 2005. “There needs to be a national law,” he said. “Try as we may, [criminals] will go to another state — places like Ohio — where they can get a gun and it will end up in New York.”
State Sen. Carl Marcellino, a Republican from Syosset, voted for the bill, mainly because, he said, it “provides a process that didn’t exist under the federal law. This law has a mechanism for people who had guns taken away to get them back if they are found innocent [of domestic violence].”
Montesano, a retired police officer and detective, said that another reason why he doesn’t like the law is because it doesn’t address the effects it might have on law enforcement. “A cop is having a fight with his girlfriend and she tells him to leave,” he said, offering a hypothetical situation. “He doesn’t, so he’s arrested for trespassing. Then his gun is taken away, so he doesn’t have a job anymore. I’m not against other gun legislation. I voted in favor of outlawing bump stocks; for the red flag order of protection, which would have addressed the mentally ill; and extending background checks. But the Senate wouldn’t even take any of the bills up.”
Those bills were logical, he said. “In this new law,” he added, “we have different categories of people, which doesn’t make sense.”
Lavine said he saw the new law as the beginning of other gun legislation. “There is no reason for people to have tactical weapons like assault rifles,” he said. “I hunted in the past. And I fired an AR15 a couple of years ago. The firepower of that weapon was amazing — the number of rounds I could fire per minute. How many children have to die so some person can please himself that they’re like GI Joe?”
The difficulty of passing gun legislation is attributable to the influence of the National Rifle Association, Lavine said. “The NRA owns so many politicians. To find them you’d have to push aside the copper pennies and ancient lint. Americans are waking up.”
Zach Gottehrer contributed to this story.