New Yorkers under age 21 will be prohibited from buying semiautomatic rifles under a new law signed Monday by Gov. Kathy Hochul, making the state one of the first to enact a major gun control initiative following a wave of deadly mass shootings.
Hochul, a Democrat, signed 10 gun-related bills, including one that will require microstamping in new firearms, which could help law enforcement solve gun-related crimes.
Another revised the state's “red flag” law, which allows courts to temporarily take away guns from people who might be a threat to themselves or others.
“In New York, we are taking bold, strong action. We’re tightening red flag laws to keep guns away from dangerous people,” Hochul said at a press conference in the Bronx.
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New York's Legislature passed the bills last week, pushing the changes through after a pair of mass shootings involving 18-year-old gunmen using semiautomatic rifles. Ten Black people died in a racist attack on a Buffalo supermarket May 14. A Texas school shooting took the lives of 19 children and two teachers 10 days later.
The governor said New York will continue to invest in prevention of gun-related crimes by partnering with local communities and continuing to strengthen laws by putting pressure on Congress.
“Today is the start, and it’s not the end,” said Hochul. “Thoughts and prayers won’t fix this, but taking strong action will. We will do that in the name of the lives that have been lost, for the parents who will no longer see their children stepping off the school bus.”
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 early last week by Democratic legislative leaders and Gov. Kathy Hochul.
Hochul said that "we cannot keep living like this," as she called the scene outside a medical center in Tulsa one that is "all too familiar in this country." In that case, a gunman used a semi-automatic rifle to kill four people.
New York already required 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 restricts 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 law also requires 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 joins 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.