ALBANY, N.Y. — New York’s Democratic-controlled legislature on Thursday moved to pass sweeping gun legislation.
The package includes a bill banning anyone under age 21 from buying or possessing a semi-automatic rifle, a major change to state firearm laws pushed through less than three weeks after an 18-year-old used one of the guns to kill 10 people at a supermarket in Buffalo.
Other legislation included in the package would:
- Strengthen the 2019 Red Flag law, which allows a court to issue an extreme risk protection order prohibiting a person who is determined to be a threat to themselves or others from purchasing or possessing a firearm for up to one year,
- Require all state and local law enforcement agencies to submit gun crime information to several national agencies,
- Require new guns to be equipped with microstamping technology, which would allow law enforcement investigators to more easily link weapons to fired bullets,
- Require anyone looking to purchase a semiautomatic rifle to obtain a license beforehand,
- And make it illegal to purchase or sell body vests to anyone who does not work in law enforcement or other professions that would require body armor.
The Legislature spent Thursday evening debating the bill raising the age limit, which passed the Senate along party lines 43-20 and in the Assembly 102-47. The legislation, which also launches a licensing requirement, is the centerpiece of a package of gun control bills announced earlier this week by Democratic legislative leaders and Gov. Kathy Hochul. It’s now set to head to Hochul’s desk for her signature.
The governor released the following statement Thursday night:
“Just last night a deadly semiautomatic weapon was once again used to mercilessly kill innocent civilians, this time at a medical facility in Oklahoma. It was a scene all too familiar in this country, one we’ve seen everywhere from Uvalde, to Sandy Hook, to Parkland, to my hometown of Buffalo. We cannot keep living like this.
“We cannot be satisfied by New York’s already tough gun laws. Shooting after shooting makes it clear that they must be even stronger to keep New Yorkers safe. This comprehensive package will close loopholes, give law enforcement the tools they need to prevent easy access to guns, and stop the sale of dangerous weapons to 18-year-olds. I am grateful to Majority Leader Stewart-Cousins, Speaker Heastie, and our partners in the legislature, and I look forward to signing these bills into law.
“Even as we take action to protect New Yorkers, we recognize that this is a nationwide problem. I once again urge Congress to seize this moment and pass meaningful gun violence prevention measures. We have no time to waste.”
New York already requires people to be 21 to possess a handgun. Younger people would still be allowed to have other types of rifles and shotguns, but the change in the law would restrict ownership of the type of fast-firing rifles used by the 18-year-old gunmen in the mass shootings in Buffalo and at a Texas elementary school.
Besides raising the legal purchase age to 21, the bill would also require anyone buying a semiautomatic rifle to get a license — something now only required for handguns.
Republicans chastised Democrats for pushing a more sweeping measure than Hochul originally pitched.
Sen. Gustavo Rivera, a Bronx Democrat, rebuffed Republicans who argued the bill will inconvenience gun owners and infringe Second Amendment rights: “It is meant to be a hassle to those folks who might want to get their hands quickly on something with which they could mass murder people.”
Semiautomatic rifles automatically load each bullet after firing, although firing requires pulling the trigger for each round. That makes it possible for mass murderers to kill more people in a short amount of time.
The change would largely impact areas outside New York City, which already requires permits to possess, carry and purchase any type of firearm and prohibits most applicants under 21.
Elsewhere in New York, people as young as 16 can possess long guns like rifles and shotguns without a license.
Sen. Alexis Weik, a Republican of Long Island, pointed out that an 18 year old could still travel to another state and buy a semi-automatic rifle.
Sen. Kevin Thomas, a Long Island Democrat and one of the bill’s sponsors, replied, “Are you advocating for federal gun control? Because that what’s needed.”
New York would join a handful of states — including Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Vermont and Washington – that require buyers to be at least 21 instead of 18 to purchase some types of long guns. Similar legislation has been proposed in Utah.
California’s attempt to raise the legal buying age for a semiautomatic weapons has been challenged in court.
On May 11, a U.S. Appeals court panel ruled 2-1 that the state’s ban on the sale of semiautomatic weapons to adults under 21 is unconstitutional. The two judges who ruled in the majority were part of Republican President Donald Trump’s wave of conservative-approved nominees that reshaped the famously liberal court.
The National Rifle Association is also challenging Florida’s ban on the sale of rifles and other firearms to adults under age 21, which was passed in the wake of a 2018 shooting that killed 17 students and staff at a high school in Parkland.