Part nine in an ongoing series.
Greg Ferrando remembers his first hunting trip at 14, and waiting for two days before spotting and shooting a deer. “It all happened real quick,” the 21-year-old Seaford resident said. “It was a very emotional moment for me and my dad. It was a very good moment. A very memorable moment.”
Growing up, Dennis Levy, 29, was a fan of the James Bond films. The East Meadow native recalled a childhood visit with a relative who lived in Florida and owned a German-made Walther PPK: the same type of gun Bond used on screen.
“He let me shoot it,” Levy said. “And I was addicted.”
With the recent mass shootings in the United States and the rise in advocacy groups from both sides of the gun debate, each state government is striving to find a balance between individual rights and safety legislation. Gun enthusiasts such as Ferrando and Levy weighed in on how they continue to pursue their passion amid a changing landscape.
Nation’s ‘toughest gun laws’
James Jacobs, a professor of law and sociology at New York University, said that he believes gun advocacy groups are more energized in states such as New York that enact tougher gun legislation.
“I think the gun owners believe that every act of gun control leads to more gun control,” he said, citing legislation that former Gov. George Pataki passed in New York in 2000, which many called the country’s “toughest gun laws.”
Following the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, Gov. Andrew Cuomo passed another set of stricter gun laws with 2013’s Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act.
“If there was some package that was the end, that was the final compromise, maybe everyone could reach some agreement,” Jacobs said. “But that’s never the case.”
Ferrando said that he fears many New Yorkers want a total ban on semi-automatic guns. He recently turned 21, and wants to apply for his pistol permit, a process that is more in-depth than purchasing a long gun — and rightly so, he added.
Ferrando said that many people fear long guns because of their appearance, despite the dangers that pistols pose as easy-to-conceal weapons. He has handled long guns since his childhood, when his father taught him to shoot on a CZ .22 bolt-action training rifle.
“I couldn’t touch it, see it or be around it without him in the room,” he said. “But I was comfortable with it. I knew I had nothing to fear, and that’s one of the proudest things I could say about the experience.”
Despite New York’s laws, Jacobs said, there are hundreds of gun dealers in New York, at least one gun show in every county once a month and a multitude of gun rights advocacy groups throughout the state.
“New York is nowhere near shutting them down,” he said.
Florida: the ‘Wild West’
Ever since Levy was a child, and first handled the firearm used by his favorite on-screen icon, he has considered himself a gun enthusiast. After graduating from East Meadow High School in 2007, Levy moved to Orlando, Fla., where he attended the University of Central Florida, and eventually bought a home and his first firearm.
Levy said that he does not believe he would be as inclined to pursue his hobby if he stayed in New York because of the state’s strict laws and “hoops you have to jump through” to own and operate firearms.
In Florida, Levy is a member of the Central Florida Rifle and Pistol Club. He regularly shoots for sport, collects guns and attends gun shows. At one of these gun shows about three years ago, Levy traded one of his long guns for an AR-15 style rifle. According to Florida law, he did not need a background check to obtain the AR-15 style rifle because he received it from a private seller.
The legal transaction fell under what many call the “gun show loophole,” and now, Levy said, the sale “haunts him deeply.”
A gunman brought the same kind of weapon into the Pulse nightclub in Orlando on June 12, 2015, killing 49 people. The massacre affected Levy on a personal level as a gay man who frequented the nightclub. It shifted the way he thought about his state’s gun laws, as someone who was legally able to trade one gun that was registered under his name for another that is not.
Levy still owns the semi-automatic rifle and a number of other semi-automatic weapons and said he has no desire to quit his hobby. However, he added, Florida needs to change its gun laws to prevent such weapons from falling into the wrong hands.
“The private sales laws make it like the Wild West,” he said. “I think Florida needs to close every single loophole that exists with regard to how people maintain guns.”