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District attorneys propose new gun control steps

By Tom Precious

ALBANY -- A group of Democratic and Republican district attorneys from around the state on Tuesday called for sweeping new gun control laws in the wake of the Connecticut school shootings.

The District Attorneys Association of the State of New York called for a comprehensive approach to controlling gun crimes –- instead of the piecemeal approach being taken at the negotiating table in Albany by Democratic and Republican lawmakers. GOP lawmakers have accused Democrats of not wanting to do anything about crimes involving illegal guns, while Democrats say GOP lawmakers are blocking efforts to restrict sales of assault-style weapons.

Cyrus R. Vance Jr., the Manhattan district attorney and president of the statewide prosecutors group, said prosecutors across the state back an approach that will do everything from imposing mandatory consecutive sentences for crimes committed with firearms to banning the sale of high-capacity magazine guns.

Here is the group’s specific proposals from a press release issued earlier today:

Mandatory Consecutive Sentences for Crimes That Include Firearms. When preventive efforts fail, there must be appropriate penalties for people who commit violent crimes or traffic in narcotics while armed with a firearm. Criminal activity becomes exponentially more volatile when firearms are present. Amending the existing Criminal Use of a Firearm law (PL §265.09) to provide for a mandatory consecutive five-year sentence when a person commits a violent felony or drug trafficking offense while in possession of a firearm would go a long way toward eliminating gun violence on our streets. A written proposal to amend this law is part of DAASNY’s proposed anti-gang package, a copy of which is enclosed.

High-Capacity Magazine Ban - State. A ban on high-capacity magazines, which allow those bent on mass murder to fire countless rounds without pausing for a moment to reload, would be likely to lessen the devastation involved in tragedies like the recent Sandy Hook massacre. In New York, possessing a large capacity ammunition-feeding device is a class D felony (PL §265.02(8)), but only if such devices were manufactured after September 13, 1994. New York should eliminate this exception.

Statewide Periodic Reapplication. Drivers in New York State are required to renew their licenses periodically, in recognition of the serious responsibility that comes with driving a car on our highways. There is no good reason why gun licenses should not also have to be renewed. In New York City, Westchester County, Nassau County, and Suffolk County, gun permit holders are already required to appear in person periodically to renew their licenses. Unfortunately, in New York’s other counties, firearm licenses are valid for life, regardless of any change in the fitness of the permit holder. The Legislature should harmonize the statewide reapplication requirements to conform to existing renewal requirements. 

Microstamping. Microstamping is an inexpensive and effective tool to solve – and deter – gun trafficking and other crimes by etching a unique code onto the firing pin and breech face of a semi-automatic handgun. This code is then transferred onto the cartridge casing each time the gun is fired, which allows law enforcement to quickly determine the gun’s purchaser.  Both DAASNY and the New York State Law Enforcement Council have long supported microstamping.

Mental Health – Authorized Firearm Revocation. New York State law does not expressly empower courts to remove firearms or revoke the firearms licenses of people who have been found mentally incapacitated or ordered to mental treatment or commitment. Granting courts the power to revoke the license and order the surrender of firearms owned by one suffering from a mental disorder is a powerful crime prevention tool that would save lives.

Mental Health – Kendra’s Law. Kendra’s Law, enacted in 1999 in recognition that some people suffer from serious mental health issues that require oversight, is ripe for expansion in several ways. Orders of treatment should be extended from six months to one year. Discharge evaluations should be undertaken to establish treatment plans. And when people relocate to a new county, the treatment order should also move to that new county. Finally, one way to use available mental health services more effectively is to expand the list of those authorized to file a petition with the court to include many stakeholders in the criminal justice system who are in a position to seek appropriate treatment under Kendra’s Law for covered individuals. Current law is limited to Probation and Parole officers.

Stockpiling Prevention. To reduce both stockpiling and trafficking of firearms, buyers should be prohibited from buying large caches of weapons at one time. Reasonable limitations should be put on the number of weapons that can be bought or sold in a finite period of time.

Gun Show Loophole - State. New York State has already taken steps to require that background checks be performed at gun shows. To cover all gun sales, the background-check requirement should be extended to private transactions conducted outside the purview of gun shows, such as sales at antique or pawn shops.

Home or Place of Business Exception. Possession of an illegal loaded firearm in New York is currently a class C violent felony, unless such possession was in the person’s home or place of business. This minor exception is justified because the threat to public safety is somewhat diminished when the purpose of the possession is for the defense of one’s home or place of business. But in cities like New York or Syracuse, where many people live in multiple dwellings, current law does not make clear that the “home” is limited to one’s apartment and not the common areas of a building. Too often in our cities, criminals roam the hallways and commit violent crimes. Judges and juries should have clear guidance that in single houses, the entire structure is the “home,” while in multiple dwellings, the home ends at the front door to the individual unit.

Ammunition Sales.  As anyone who has recently purchased cold medicine knows, buyers are required to provide identification so that sellers can record covered transactions. Large quantities of aggregate purchases are a red flag that the purchaser might be manufacturing dangerous drugs. DAASNY believes that if we can do this for cold medicine, we should do it for bullets.

Federal Proposals:

With respect to federal proposals, District Attorneys across the State are already on record regarding some of the most important.  We note these here.

Gun Show Loophole - Federal.  H.R.591 (2012) would require Brady criminal background checks on all gun sales at gun shows nationwide. That means that so-called “occasional sellers” would need to abide by the same rules as licensed sellers, including conducting background checks. This would solve the existing problem that is rampant at gun shows – unlicensed private sellers are actually in compliance with the law when they sell firearms to convicted felons, domestic violence abusers, and the dangerously mentally ill, even though those categories of people are themselves not allowed to own weapons. A simple background check would thwart their efforts.

High-Capacity Magazine Ban - Federal. The federal high-capacity magazine ban, enacted in 1994, expired in 2004. A simple and straightforward ban on these militarized weapons should be enacted in this Congressional session.

National Right to Carry Reciprocity Act. H.R. 822 (2012) would require every state to honor a permit to carry a concealed weapon from any other state, overriding the laws of New York and many other states. If this bill were to become law, individuals who are not eligible for a permit in New York would be afforded the right to carry a concealed weapon while they are in New York solely because they hold a permit from their home state. Without any discretion or oversight, New York would be forced to allow an individual to carry a concealed weapon in clear violation of New York State law. DAASNY strongly opposes this bill.

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About Politics Now

Robert J. McCarthy

Robert J. McCarthy

A native of Schenectady, Robert J. McCarthy came to The Buffalo News in 1982 following a six-year stint at the Olean Times Herald. He is a graduate of St. Bonaventure University, and has been covering local, state and national politics since 1992.

rmccarthy@buffnews.com


Tom Precious

Tom Precious

Tom Precious joined The Buffalo News in 1997 as bureau chief at the state Capitol, where he covers everything from statewide politics and state government fiscal affairs to health care, environmental and municipal government matters. Prior to The News, he worked for news outlets in Albany and Washington, DC.

tprecious@buffnews.com


Jill Terreri

Jill Terreri

Jill Terreri is an Amherst native and has covered politics and government in upstate New York since 2003. She joined The Buffalo News in 2012 and covers City Hall.

@jillterreri | jterreri@buffnews.com


Jerry Zremski

Jerry Zremski

Jerry Zremski, The Buffalo News Washington bureau chief, has reported from the nation's capital since 1989 after joining The News as a business reporter in 1984. A graduate of Syracuse University, Zremski is a former Nieman fellow in journalism at Harvard University. In 2007, he served as president of the National Press Club.

@JerryZremski | jzremski@buffnews.com

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