A month after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012, New York passed a set of gun control laws that proponents touted as the toughest in the nation. Chris Glorioso reports. (Published Thursday, May 8, 2014)
A month after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012, New York passed a set of gun control laws that proponents touted as the toughest in the nation.
Now some critics say one part of the law – the assault rifle ban – is not effective because new models being made to comply with the law are almost entirely the same as those that were banned.
"The guns are exact," said Long Island gun dealer Martin Tretola.
Tretola took the I-Team to the gun range to demonstrate what he says are merely cosmetic changes the SAFE Act imposed on one of America's most popular type of rifle, the AR-15.
Under the law, bayonet mounts, flash suppressors and telescoping stocks are banned, and rifles cannot have a pistol grip.
But the new modified rifle is still semi-automatic. That means each squeeze of the trigger automatically loads the next round into the chamber.
NYU law professor James Jacobs, who has written extensively on gun control issues, praises portions of the SAFE Act, including expanded background checks.
But he says the the assault rifle ban has resulted in a remodeled gun that is no less dangerous – just less scary looking.
"It differs only in how it looks, not in how it functions," Jacobs said.
The law redefined an assault weapon as a semi-automatic rifle that can accept a detachable magazine and has one military-style feature such as a pistol grip or folding stock.
Tretola told the I-Team those features are less about killing, and more about comfort.
"The pistol grip? That's just so you can hold it better,” he said. “The collapsible stock is actually so if a shorter person than I am is shooting, they could bring it in and make it shorter."
Yet gun control advocates say a less comfortable rifle is also a less deadly weapon.
"The legal gun looks a lot like the illegal gun," said Leah Gunn Barrett, the executive director of New Yorkers Against Gun Violence. "Does that make this law essentially cosmetic? No. These features all have specific functions."
For example, Gunn Barrett said a forward-leaning pistol grip might give a mass shooter better control over his rifle.
"The gun is still lethal,” Gunn Barrett said. “Yes, it can still kill people. But it is not as easy to manipulate and fire accurately than it would be if you had a forward-leaning pistol grip."
Some families of gun violence victims say they are frustrated by what they believe are efforts to skirt the gun control law.
"Here we go again,” said Joyce Gorycki, who lost her husband in the 1993 Long Island Rail Road massacre. “This is what they always do. It's just a terrible thing. The gun manufacturers. I just don't understand them."
Mark Malkowski, owner at Connecticut-based Stag Arms, which makes the Safe Act-compliant gun that Tretola shot at the range, said he’s happy that he’s come up with new models for his customers who want AR-15–style rifles. But he said he has had to sacrifice some comfort, and he doesn’t understand why it was necessary.
“It definitely didn’t make us safer,” he said.