Sportsmen and gun enthusiasts across the East End are blasting a new state gun control law, one that is being hailed as the strictest in the nation after it was hurriedly approved by the State Legislature and signed by Governor Andrew Cuomo last week.
Critics say the law’s limitations are weak, that it will not prevent the type of violence that spurred its creation, and it will unnecessarily hamstring law-abiding gun owners.
Provisions limiting the number of bullets or shells that a gun or clip may hold and the focus on so-called “assault weapons” drew the most criticism, as well as quips that in the rush to get the bill on the books its drafters overlooked provisions that place restrictions on the guns carried by police officers in the line of duty.
“Very simply, there is not a single thing, with the exception of the mental health provision, that would have prevented the Newtown massacre,” said Dean Speir, a Westhampton Beach resident, former competition shooter and author of the firearms rights blog The Gun Zone. “There’s nothing else in there that would have changed anything about what happened up there.”
The newly adopted law expands an existing state ban on “assault weapons,” a category of high-powered rifles that includes the AR-15, the type of gun used in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings in December, in which 26 people, including 20 children, were murdered. The gun that the Sandy Hook shooter, Adam Lanza, used in the massacre was purchased legally under Connecticut laws by his mother, whom he also killed.
Assault weapons are defined in the new law as semi-automatic rifles that have some characteristics of a military weapon, such as mounts for a bayonet, folding stocks, pistol-type grips, and muzzle flash suppressors. The AR-15 is a modified version of the famous fully automatic M-16 military rifle that U.S. soldiers have carried for three generations.
The AR-15, however, is also a very popular gun with target shooters and is widely used in competitions around the country. At the Maidstone Gun Club in East Hampton, Club President Jeff Jones said that many members own and shoot the rifles at the club’s range.
Mr. Jones said that, in many ways, the new law will not be a substantial inconvenience to many of the club’s gun owners; he pointed out that New York State has had some of the strictest laws in the nation since the early 1990s, and gun owners are used to working under them. Still, he worries that the new legislation is only the start of a slippery slope to future laws that could threaten individual ownership of some guns in the future.
“Personally, I wouldn’t be surprised to see gun confiscation in yours and my lifetimes,” he said. “It’s gun control that they want. But they’re not controlling what they ought to be controlling: illegal guns. They have to do something about illegal firearms. It’s easier to regulate the poor bastard that’s following the law.”
New York’s updated law limits removable, interchangeable clips for all semi-automatic handguns and rifles so they can only hold up to seven rounds. Target shooters say that most competitions, locally and nationally, are based on 10-round clips.
“It may kill a whole segment of sport-shooting ... international practical shooting,” Mr. Speir said, referring to a competition in which the contestant, bearing a handgun or rifle, is required to move quickly through a course of changing target styles. “I know at least one range on Long Island that will probably not survive this gun law,” strictly because of the ban on high-capacity magazines, he said.
Mr. Speir noted that simply limiting the number of rounds in a clip will not do much to hamper a shooter intent on harming large numbers of people, because clips can be interchanged very quickly. Certainly, the difference between a 10-round clip and a seven-round clip is negligible under such circumstances, he said.
“People are outraged by things like what happened up there in Connecticut, and they want something to happen, and now they’re being told they’re made safer,” Mr. Speir said. “They’re not being made safer.”
The man who killed 12 people at a movie theater in Colorado last summer carried an AR-15 with a magazine capable of holding 100 rounds of ammunition.
High-profile shootings like those occurring at Sandy Hook Elementary School, the Colorado movie theater and the mall shooting of Arizona Congresswoman Gabriel Giffords have heightened the calls for strong gun control around the country. President Barack Obama’s administration has set goals for a broad array of new attempts at limiting gun violence.