Although TTAG has been reporting on the civil disobedience brewing among gun owners in New York to the ironically-named NY SAFE Act, the story is now spreading enough such that even elements of the mainstream media are unable to ignore it anymore. NPR reported on Friday that “it appears that many gun owners are refusing to comply with a key provision that requires the registration of so-called assault weapons.” Imagine that . . .
“I think this law was so incredibly repressive that it drove people to the point now that they’re basically saying we’re not going to abide by any more laws,” says Brian Olesen, the owner of American Trade and Goods and several other outdoor stores around Albany, N.Y., that stock a wide range of guns for hunting and self-defense. Olesen says his customers overwhelmingly oppose the New York Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act — or SAFE Act, as the 2013 gun law is known.
The law has some of the nation’s toughest regulations on guns and ammunition, including a ban on the sale of so-called “military style assault weapons,” like the AR-15 style long rifle used in the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. It also requires New Yorkers to register the assault weapons they already own with police.
Critics of the law see registration as the first step toward confiscation. And some say they just won’t do it.
“I just don’t see there’s any need to,” says Joseph Fuller of Cohoes, N.Y. Fuller says he owns several guns, including at least one that he’s required to register under the SAFE Act. But he hasn’t.
“I don’t pay attention, to be honest,” says Fuller. “I have friends out in the boondocks. They won’t register their guns either. And they told me … don’t even bother. Don’t worry about it.”
No one knows exactly how many so-called assault weapons there are in New York. But the number is likely far more than the 45,000 that have been registered so far. The New York State Police released that number recently, but only after being ordered to by a court.
“[The SAFE Act] still may be law, but the people of New York state have repealed it on their own,” says Tom King, president of the New York State Rifle and Pistol Association. “They’re just ignoring the law….”
[T]he law’s opponents show no signs of backing down. They’ve been especially loud in upstate New York, where hunting is a big part of the culture. Among them are many elected county sheriffs.
“When I prioritize what I need to do as a sheriff, the SAFE Act comes in at the bottom of that list,” says Christopher Moss, the sheriff in Chemung County, a rural area near the Pennsylvania border. “I do look at it personally as an infringement on Second Amendment rights.”
Although it may not seem like it to the people taking the action (some of which are motivated by principle, and some of which, I’m sure, are motivated by inertia,) civil disobedience is a brave step. According to the obfuscatory language of the ironically-named NY SAFE Act:
A person who knowingly fails to apply to register such weapon, as required by this section, within one year of the effective date of the chapter of the laws of two thousand thirteen which added this paragraph shall be guilty of a Class A misdemeanor and such person who unknowingly fails to apply to register such weapon within such one year period shall be given a warning by an appropriate law enforcement authority about such failure and given thirty days in which to apply to register such weapon or to surrender it. A failure to apply or surrender such weapon within such thirty-day period shall result in such weapon being removed by an appropriate law enforcement authority and declared a nuisance.
In the grand scheme of things, one year in prison doesn’t sound like much. As a colleague of mine is fond of observing, however, even a small time in jail can be a life-changing event. People can find themselves out of job, behind on their house payments, divorced, and with a perfect storm of ‘all of the above,’ homeless after serving just a month or two behind bars. (Don’t forget, too, the inevitable, “So…why did you leave your last job?” question at the next interview.) All else being equal, you really would be better off avoiding any extended all-expenses-paid stay at the county jail, no matter how short it seems.
For that reason, people who are willing to stand up to an oppressive law passed in the (proverbial) middle of the night by demagogues and self-interested politicians acting in the heat of the moment deserve our respect. They are doing far more than most of us have ever done with our printed words and monetary donations, and angrily-written Facebook posts. They are actually putting their freedom on the line for their rights and ours — regardless of whether we reside in the Empire State or not.
The NPR article goes on to report that some GOP members of the legislature are still trying to repeal the ironically-named act, and that a federal appellate court is expected to rule on the constitutionality of the law later this year. Watch this site for more details.
DISCLAIMER: The above is an opinion piece; it is not legal advice, nor does it create an attorney-client relationship in any sense. If you need legal advice in any matter, you are strongly urged to hire and consult your own counsel. This post is entirely my own, and does not represent the positions, opinions, or strategies of my firm or clients.