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Image from Governor Andrew Cuomo's state of the state presentation, highlighting public safety and gun control. Photo: Gov. Cuomo's office
Image from Governor Andrew Cuomo's state of the state presentation, highlighting public safety and gun control. Photo: Gov. Cuomo's office

Will gun owners go along with NY's tough new law?

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The New York State Police held informational meetings with gun owners and dealers yesterday around the state. The meetings were designed to answer questions about how New York's tough new gun control law will be implemented.

That law, signed by Governor Cuomo earlier this month, includes strict regulation of assault rifles, closer tracking of gun sales, and a phased-in ban of high-capacity ammunition magazines.

At a meeting in Lake Placid, gun owners from the North Country asked for clarification about how the rules would affect their gun collections.

But they also expressed frustration, anger and defiance.

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Reported by

Brian Mann
Adirondack Bureau Chief

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In a packed meeting room in Lake Placid, the idea of gun control and the reality are meeting face to face.

State police colonel Tom Fazio grees the crowd, then clicks through a power point presentation, laying out New York's brand new gun law.

His audience is made up mostly of guys in camouflage coats and hunting caps.

"Assault weapons, owners of assault weapons have until April, 2014, to register through a quick, simple and free process," Fazio says.

It's a nuts and bolts kind of talk. Fazio says he doesn't want to talk about the politics of the new rules.

Instead, he spends a quarter hour describing deadlines for registering rifles and giving details of how to modify a high capacity clip to make it legal.

But when it's time for questions, a lot of people in the crowd, like Steve Bozell, from Saranac Lake, don't seem all that interested in how the new law is supposed to work.

Instead, he wants to know how to work around it. "It says sale of assault weapons banned in New York. So what if I go to Vermont and buy one and bring it into New York?" Bozell asks.

"You couldn't possess it in New York," answers Kevin Bruen, an attorney with the New York State police.

"So I'm dead in the water," Bozell laments. "I can never have an assault weapon."

 In the national gun control debate, this is one of the big questions. What happens if you ban or restrict a type of rifle or a magazine that has been legal – a weapon that a lot of people already own?

Will gun owners agree to turn in or register newly regulated firearms?

That moment of decision has arrived for Darrel Savage from Tupper Lake, who says his answer is simple.

"They're just stomping on our rights for no reason and it's not going to save a single life. And it's turning me into a criminal," he insists.

Asked if he plans to comply with the law, Savage replies, "No, definitely not."

State officials here are clearly trying to avoid the spectacle of arresting gun-owners who violate the new rules.

There's a lengthy grace period for most of the law's provisions and registration of guns and new background checks for ammunition purchases will be cost-free.

But a lot of gun-owners, like Barry Mattoon from Tupper Lake, don't trust those efforts and they worry that police will start seizing guns and magazines: "Will it be confiscated? Or taken?"

"If you're asking me, will the state police enter your home and take magazines, the answer is no," says Kevin Bruen, with NYS police.

Bruen says police will be handing out a lot of warnings, at least at first.

But people who hold on to banned guns or magazines or fail to register them after the law's deadlines will be committing a crime and police could eventually confiscate weapons under certain circumstances.

That idea is pretty unpopular in this room and Bruen works hard to keep the meeting from spinning out of control, as some members of the crowd shout questions and spark applause by callling the law "lunacy."

Opposition to the law in the North Country is strongest in New York state. A poll by the Siena Research Institute earlier this month found that 73 percent of New Yorkers statewide actually support the assault rifle ban.

Even a few of the gun owners here say they agree that some new regulations were needed.

Jeff Bartell is from Lake Placid. His gun collection includes rifles covered by the new law, and he says he thinks clamping down on weapon sales at gun shows was a good idea.

"I'd gladly give up all my weapons if someone could look me in the eye and tell me that would stop all the violence," he says.

But Bartell shares the view of the vast majority of these gun owners, who doubt New York's law will make people safer – or keep dangerous weapons out of the hands of criminals.

Col. Tom Fazio disagrees. He says the rules will make communities safer. "The law as designed will help taking a gun maybe from someone who has mental health issues," he argues.

"To keep the guns out of those hands is a good thing."

The gun owners at this meeting aren't buying that argument. Whether they agree to comply with the new law remains to be seen.

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