By Haley Viccaro, Albany Bureau
ALBANY -- Gun shops and owners across New York voiced concern Tuesday about the gun-control measures set for passage by the state Legislature, saying it would restrict the rights of law-abiding gun owners.
New York already has among the toughest gun laws in the country, gun-store owners said. Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the Legislature have agreed to strengthen them further by implementing a ban on assault weapons and magazines holding more than seven bullets.
The new gun laws would require universal background checks for all gun sales, including private sales outside of gun shops. Cuomo also included a "Webster provision," which would enforce a life without parole sentence for anyone who murders a first responder. Two first responders were fatally shot in Webster, Monroe County, on Christmas Eve.
"I would say about 99.9 percent of people who are purchasing firearms are sane, legal people," said Dave Kielon, owner of Kielon Gunsmiths in Webster. "We have a very low rejection rate of people who have background checks performed here."
Gun stores said sales have increased over the past month following the Newton shooting. There were reports Tuesday of long lines outside gun stores with customers seeking to make purchases before the new law takes effect. Major provisions of the law would take effect immediately after Cuomo signs it.
Customers were also expressing concern about the new law because they are worried it will affect their gun rights, store owners said. Store owners could face fines and criminal charges if they violate the new law.
"As far as regular dealers selling guns to regular people, they didn't have to put any more laws on the table," said Frank Kushner, owner of FMK Karate in Binghamton. "If anything, it makes people want to get more than they had before because they are scared that they are losing their rights."
Data obtained by Gannett's Albany Bureau from State Police showed that approved handgun applications in counties nearly doubled during last year, from 1,280 in January 2012 to 2,401 in November 2012.
Kushner said that gun shops must see a pistol permit of any individual who requests to purchase a handgun. Even with a license, background checks must be performed on the spot, which includes a check of mental-health records.
He also raised the question about guns requiring magazines that hold more than seven rounds. Kushner said one of the most popular guns sold is the Glock, which has a magazine of 10 rounds.
"Glock currently makes their magazines with 10 bullets because of New York's limit," he said. "So until they do something different, that eliminates this gun all together. It is probably going to be even harder to get these guns now."
Store owners said the focus should be on stricter laws for individuals who have mental illnesses. The law does include stronger mental-health regulations.
"It's not the guns, it is the people," said Angela Spinelli, owner of Olinville Arms in the Bronx. "There are crazy people out there in this world who have guns, and where they get them from I don't know."
Some victims of gun violence defended the new law.
Westchester resident Paul Ercolino lost his brother last August after he was shot at the Empire State Building by a former coworker. Ercolino supports the governor's measures and is an active participant in the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, which is a group that works to pass federal and state gun laws.
"I think the responsible gun owners could only applaud for having better registration of guns," he said. "It's not just stricter laws, but it is also the mental health aspect because a majority of these crimes are committed by people who have mental illnesses."
Ercolino said there is no reason that the average citizen should own an assault weapon or carry a magazine that is capable of shooting more than seven bullets.
Thomas Scarano, owner of Tri-State Archery in Pelham, Westchester County, claimed that Cuomo is pushing the new law to boost his national profile.
"Truthfully, I think Gov. Cuomo is trying to make a name for himself. There are some good provisions in the law, like a stricter penalty for criminals that get caught," Scarano said.
But he added, "Any honest, law-abiding citizen will have more difficulty now to own a gun and to hold on to it or sell it. Criminals don't care about all of this, the legal gun owners do."