Monday, April 8, 2013

The NY SAFE Act and Its Impact on Hunting Regulations in New York State

I realize that by virtue of the fact that the issue is limited to New York State, this post will have limited reach. I apologize for that, but it has been a big issue here in NY, so I wanted to address it. For those of you who have been following the issue, recently New York State passed a piece of legislation which limited certain gun use and possession. The legislation is called the NY SAFE (Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement) Act.

The act has been thoroughly criticized for being rushed through and very poorly thought out. As its claim to fame the act boasts to be the first such act since the recent mass shootings. I suppose the political brownie points that come with passing the first such act makes up for the fact that very little though was actually given to the provisions it contains. Since the passing of the act, Governor Cuomo has had to hold several press conferences stating that different parts of the act will not be enforced and will be suspended until they can be rewritten. I’ll discuss some of them in this post.


Before I get into the post, I want to point out two things that you should keep in mind while reading:

The first is that I am only discussing the NY SAFE Act in the context of how it effects hunting in New York State as this is an outdoor blog. There are other provisions of the act that may or may not effect you as a gun owner. Similarly, there are provisions that deal with reporting for mental health facilities, changes to the way gun dealers have to do background checks, etc. I will not focus on those parts of the act in any detail as they do not relate to hunting.

The second is that none of this should be construed to constitute legal advise. This is just my understanding of the provisions. I am in no way an expert or qualified to speak on the subject. If you have a question about the legality of your weapon, please contact an attorney in your jurisdiction. Also keep in mind that certain large cities like NYC have additional regulations, and most likely those regulations are already more restrictive than the ones in the NY SAFE Act.

The NY SAFE Act is a piece of legislation which serves to amend the gun control laws already in existence in New York State. The act contains thirteen provisions, ranging from increasing the penalties for shooting a first responder, to requiring you to report a lost gun within 24 hours. In my opinion there are two provisions which potentially effect a gun owner in the state who uses his guns for hunting.

Restriction of Magazine Capacity

The laws in New York State prior to the SAFE Act more or less followed the Clinton Assault Weapons Ban. Magazine capacity had been limited to 10 rounds, and older 30 round magazines were allowed to be in use. The NY SAFE Act bans all magazines with a capacity larger than 10 rounds, no matter when they were manufactured. The language of the act also prohibits the purchase and use of any magazines with a capacity of more than 7 rounds. 10 round magazines that were purchased prior to the act would be allowed to remain in use, but can only be loaded with 7 rounds.

Now, this is one of those provisions that was not thought out at all and was written by people who have never seen a gun. Shortly after Governor Cuomo signed the act into law, someone pulled him to the side and explained to him that there are virtually no 7 round magazines on the market. As a result, Governor Cuomo had to hold a press conference and state that this provision of the NY SAFE Act is suspended. Somehow in his mind that did not invalidate the provision, but rather made it into a new regulation where you can now purchase and own old and new 10 round magazines, but you can only load 7 rounds in them. I was skeptical of this, but on the New York State website, the change is clearly written. I took two screen shots which confirm this.



The second screen shot answers a question specific to the Ruger 10/22, one of the most popular .22 rimfire rifles, which has a 10 round magazine. The absurdity of rendering such a popular small game hunting gun inoperable by not allowing magazines for it to be purchased was too absurd, and necessitated the above change.

I should point out that the above capacity restriction does not apply to tube magazines for rimfire rifles. So if you have something like a Marlin XT-22 with a tube magazine, you can load more than 7 rounds.

As a side note, Governor Cuomo then had to hold a second press conference where he had to assure outraged police officers that the act will not apply to them. As it is written, the NY SAFE Act does not exempt NY police officers from the magazine capacity restrictions. This is clearly another absurd result of a poorly thought out and rushed piece of legislation.

So, how does this directly effect hunting in New York State? Well, in all honesty, it only effects you if you hunt with a .22 or .17 rimfire rifle. In New York State, all centerfire rifles are already limited in the number of rounds they can carry to 5 in a magazine plus 1 in the chamber for a total of 6 rounds. Shotguns, due to federal waterfowl regulations, are plugged so they can only hold a maximum of 3 rounds, 2 in the tube and 1 in the chamber. The only guns that were exempt from these regulations were .22 and .17 rimfire rifles. Technically, you could carry such rifles with higher magazine capacity. They are the only guns in the hunting context that are effected by the magazine capacity regulations of the SAFE Act.

To summarize, if you hunt with a centerfire rifle or a shotgun, the hunting regulations already limit the rounds to below what the NY SAFE Act requires. In that sense you should not be effected. If you hunt with a .22 or .17 rimfire rifle, then you will be effected in that you can only use a maximum 10 round magazine, and it can in turn only be loaded with 7 rounds.

Restriction of Assault Weapons 

So, what is an assault weapon? The reality is that an “assault” weapon is a weapon that a politician who has never held a gun would consider to look scary when he seen it in a catalog. As a result, the classification of assault weapons has very little to do with what a gun owner would consider an assault weapon. Be careful, you have to follow the regulations as they are written, even if they make no sense. As an example, let’s take a look at the picture below.


The picture shows two Ruger 10/22s, the rifle we were discussing earlier when talking about magazine capacity. The top rifle is the stock version of the Ruger 10/22, while the lower rifle has had several after market modifications. The second one is an assault weapon in New York State, but the first one is not. Why? If you guessed that it’s because of the addition of a heavier barrel or a high power scope, you would be a reasonable person, but you would be wrong, because you have failed to apply the “Does it look scary to a person who has never held a gun” test. The feature that actually makes the second rifle an assault weapon is the hole you see in the stock of the gun. Someone in the senate decided that if there is such a hole where you can put your thumb through the stock while holding the rifle, the whole gun becomes too “assaulty” for a civilian to own without registering it. The lesson-be careful. You have to follow the provisions even if they make no sense.

New York State had a definition for what would constitute an assault weapon prior to the SAFE Act.  NY state law used to define an "assault weapon" as:

Semi-automatic rifles able to accept detachable magazines and two or more of the following:

  • Folding or telescoping stock
  • Pistol grip
  • Bayonet mount
  • Flash suppressor, Muzzle brake, Muzzle compensator, or threaded barrel designed to accommodate one
  • Grenade launcher (more precisely, a muzzle device that enables launching or firing rifle grenades, though this applies only to muzzle mounted grenade launchers and not those mounted externally).
  • Thumbhole stock
  • Foregrip

Any revolving cylinder shotgun or any semi-automatic shotgun with two or more of the following:

  • Folding, telescoping or thumbhole stock
  • A second handgrip or a protruding grip that can be held by the non-trigger hand
  • Fixed capacity of more than 7 rounds
  • Ability to accept a detachable magazine

There are additional regulations that classify handguns as assault weapons, but I have left them out of this discussion.

The NY SAFE Act takes the above regulations which were already on the books and changes the requirement that a weapon has two or more of the above characteristics, into one or more of the above characteristics.

So, after the NY SAFE Act, a semi-automatic rifle or shotgun with one or more of the above features will be classified as an assault weapon. Let’s say as an example that you like to hunt rabbit with your Ruger 10/22. You had tricked it out with a collapsible stock so it is easier to carry on your pack. Well, that would have been legal before, but after the NY SAFE Act, if you don’t want your gun to be classified as an assault weapon you have to remove that collapsible stock.

The reality is that if you use a bolt action or single shot rifle, or a pump action or single shot shotgun, the assault weapons provision of the NY SAFE Act does not effect you. If you use a semi-automatic rifle, then it will effect you if your rifle or shotgun has one or more of the above features. The biggest impact will probably be on people who use .223 rounds for hunting coyote, as your gun is probably an AR 15 variant, which is likely to have at least one of the above features. Most stock .22 and .17 rifles should be fine, but if you have any aftermarket mods, they may fall into the above category. The features most likely to be an issue are collapsible stocks, thumbhole grips, and pistol grips. The fact is they looked scary to the senators. The restriction of grenade launchers, bayonets and silencers (not allowed for hunting in New York State) are unlikely to make much of a difference for a hunter, although you may have to make some modifications to remove features such as a bayonet lug. 

Now, if your gun is qualified as an assault weapon, you will have to register it within a year. I’m not sure what impact that would have. The most significant aspect seems to be that you can not transfer the gun to another owner within the state.

There are some other provisions, like requiring dealers to do background checks for ammunition sales which may make the checkout at Dicks even longer, and having to have all online ammunition purchases shipped to a licensed dealer, which is again a nuisance, but I believe the above two provisions to have the most direct impact on hunter in New York State. Again, if you are uncertain about a particular provision please contact an attorney in your jurisdiction.

General Provisions of the NY SAFE Act (thank you Wikipedia)

If you are curious, here is a general summery of the provisions of the NY SAFE Act:

  • Bans possession of any "high-capacity magazines" regardless of when they were made or sold. See discussion above.
  • Ammunition dealers are required to do background checks, similar to those for gun buyers. Dealers are required to report all sales, including amounts, to the state. Internet sales of ammunition are allowed, but the ammunition will have to be shipped to a licensed dealer in New York state for pickup. Ammunition background checks will begin January 15, 2014.
  • Requires creation of a registry of assault weapons. Those New Yorkers who already own such weapons would be required to register their guns with the state.
  • Requires designated mental health professionals who believe a mental health patient made a credible threat of harming others to report the threat to a mental health director, who would then have to report serious threats to the state Department of Criminal Justice Services. A patient's gun could be taken from him or her. The United States Department of Veterans Affairs has announced that it will refuse to comply with this provision.
  • Stolen guns are required be reported within 24 hours. Failure to report can result in a misdemeanor.
  • Reduces definition of "assault weapon" from two identified features to one. The sale and/or transfer of newly defined assault weapons is banned within the state, although sales out of state are permitted. Possession of the newly-defined assault weapons is allowed only if they were possessed at the time that the law was passed, and must be registered with the state within one year. See discussion above.
  • Requires background checks for all gun sales, including by private sellers - except for sales to members of the seller's immediate family. Private sale background checks will begin March 15, 2013.
  • Guns must be "safely stored" from any household member who has been convicted of a felony or domestic violence crime, has been involuntarily committed, or is currently under an order of protection. Unsafe storage of assault weapons is a misdemeanor.
  • Bans the Internet sale of assault weapons.
  • Increases sentences for gun crimes, including upgrading the offense for taking a gun on school property from a misdemeanor to a felony.
  • Increases penalties for shooting first responders (Webster provision) to life in prison without parole.
  • Limits the state records law to protect handgun owners from being identified publicly. However, existing permit holders have to opt into this provision by filing a form within 120 days of the law's enactment.
  • Requires pistol permit holders or owners of registered assault weapons to have them renewed at least every five years.
  • Allows law enforcement officials to preemptively seize a person's firearms without a warrant if they have probable cause the person may be mentally unstable or intends to use the weapons to commit a crime.

The full act is a convoluted mess, and unless you are accustomed to reading such documents it will take you some time to comb through it. You can find the full text online if you care. Again, if you are not sure about something, contact an attorney in your jurisdiction. You don’t want to be one of those test subjects for the new legislation. The above is just my overly simplistic take on that I have read and found from other sources.

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