The tragic school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newton, Connecticut was followed by a wave of anti-gun sentiment and heated political debates over the role that firearms play in American society. In the months following the event, much of the nation settled back into the status quo, but certain states passed legislation to update their gun laws. New York took the most sweeping action, passing a law that Governor Cuomo referred to as the "toughest" gun control law in the country. Now, New Yorkers in Westchester County and elsewhere in the state are finding out what life is like under the Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act, more commonly referred to as the NY SAFE Act.
So far, the adjustment has been a rough one for many firearms owners. The New York Daily News reported at the end of December that 2013 saw a total of 1,291 arrests for possession of firearms. Speaking about the apparent success of the law, the Governor's spokeswoman said, "The numbers are indisputable. The SAFE Act has enabled the state to better protect New Yorkers." The number of SAFE Act violations charged in 2013 were overwhelmingly felonies, constituting more than 89% of the total. Out of all the charges, 80% were filed in cases occurring in New York City. The SAFE Act places tighter restrictions on activities including the purchase and ownership of firearms, it imposes tougher requirements for gun registration and severely limits the ability of New Yorkers to own assault weapons. The law also expands the definition of "assault weapon," effectively bringing a wider variety of firearms under the strict regulations of the state.
Now that people in Westchester County are coming to grips with the realities of life under the SAFE Act, many are raising questions about the law. Is it Constitutional or is it a violation of the Second Amendment? Does it really make New York safer? Does it represent another example of the state encroaching on the lives of ordinary people? Governor Cuomo, the primary champion of the SAFE Act, recently came into the national spotlight again in connection with the subject of gun rights, when he was quoted in an interview on WCNY as saying:
Their problem is not me and the Democrats; their problem is themselves. Who are they? Are they these extreme conservatives who are right-to-life, pro-assault-weapon, anti-gay? Is that who they are? Because if that's who they are and they're the extreme conservatives, they have no place in the state of New York, because that's not who New Yorkers are.
Robert Schuster weighed in on the issue from his standpoint as a criminal defense attorney defending clients charged with weapons offenses in Westchester, saying:
New York is becoming a testing ground for the latest in a balancing act between our society's regulation of weapons and the guarantees offered by the Second Amendment. Gun owners are understandably concerned about unwittingly committing a criminal act without possessing full knowledge of the changes in the law. In the last twelve (12) months alone, changes legislated by the SAFE act have been reversed with respect to both ammunition in the form of magazine capacity and the applicability of the legislation to retired police officers. As recently as six weeks ago, Chief U.S. District Judge William M. Skretny, of the Federal District Court in Buffalo issued an opinion striking down the provision that only seven rounds of ammunition could be loaded into a ten-round magazine, calling it an arbitrary restriction that violated the Second Amendment, while upholding the majority of the parameters of the SAFE act. It is not our role as attorneys to weigh in on politics. It is our job to keep our clients properly informed. I encourage gun owners to contact counsel to keep them apprised of the changes in both the SAFE Act and the New York State Penal Law and seek their advice as it applies to their individual situations.
If you or a loved one has been charged with a violation under the SAFE Act, don't take chances with the outcome of the case. Contact The Law Offices of Robert Schuster now for a free initial consultation to discuss the matter, review your options for defense and get started on a strategy for your case.