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Firing Blanks on Ammunition Law Deal?

Friday, July 17, 2015

Firing Blanks on Ammunition Law Deal?

Gun rights advocates may recall that New York's "SAFE Act" was passed only 24 hours after it was introduced, with no debate or public scrutiny, and with Governor Cuomo signing the bill an hour after the State Assembly approved it in January 2013.

Among the law's restrictions is a requirement that within 30 days of a statewide license and record database becoming operational, no retail seller of ammunition may transfer ammunition to any non-dealer without recording the details of the transaction with the database ("amount, caliber, manufacturer’s name and serial number, if any, of such ammunition") and running a background check on the buyer. All commercial sales and transfers of ammunition have to go through a licensed dealer and such transfers "must occur in person," imposing a ban on internet sales that bypass these requirements. 

Now more than two years later, the underlying database remains a work in progress with no expected rollout date. An open letter posted on the State website by New York State Police Superintendent Joseph A. D’Amico advises, “The State database is currently under construction and not operational, and prior notice will be given to all sellers on a timely basis before the database is completed and any requirements are relevant.”

Late last Friday, news of a "memorandum of understanding" (MOU) signed by State Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan and James Malatras, Governor Cuomo's director of operations, regarding this key part of the 2013 SAFE Act, was released. 

The MOU notes that the superintendent has informed the legislature “of the lack of adequate technology to allow the Database to operate,” and acknowledges that “the [ammunition] Database cannot be established and/or function in the manner originally intended at this time.” As a result, the document purports to suspend the provisions of the law referencing “the use” of the statewide ammunition database. It further states that no certification of the database will be made “until such time as the undersigned have determined that the [listed] concerns have been satisfactorily resolved.” The MOU further advises that state funds are not to be expended for any software or other implementing equipment for the database until the cost is approved by both parties.

This is a rare instance where bureaucratic ineptitude might be having a beneficial impact on the citizenry at large.

This is a rare instance where bureaucratic ineptitude might be having a beneficial impact on the citizenry at large.  Besides halting further development of the database before it goes into effect, it was also reported that the MOU ends the SAFE Act's ban on internet sales of ammunition. These would be welcome changes for New York’s lawful gun owners.

The actual impact of this agreement, though, is now in dispute. Shortly after the MOU hit the news, counsel to Governor Cuomo, Alphonso David, offered an explanation that only muddied the waters. “The memorandum can in no way supercede the law as passed by the legislature and further, there is nothing in the memorandum that is inconsistent with the letter, spirit or intent of the law.” Far from curtailing any aspect of the legislation, Cuomo's anti-gun administration clearly remains committed to moving towards a functional database and keeping the prohibition on internet sales in place in the meantime. Under this interpretation, the MOU simply confirms the existing state of affairs: that the ammunition database is technologically not feasible for now. Another explanation is the MOU provides a face-saving way for the administration to avoid dealing with yet another example of how the rush-job on the SAFE act resulted in bad policy for New Yorkers.

Insofar as it purports to abate parts of Governor Cuomo's signature gun control law, the MOU may prove to be something of a misfire. New Yorkers hoping for relief from the SAFE Act may look to ongoing efforts to repeal the legislation, as well as a pending lawsuit to overturn the law, currently before the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

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