BRONX, N.Y. (AP/ WROC) — New York Governor Kathy Hochul signed legislation that bans anyone under the age of 21 from buying or possessing a semi-automatic rifle into law Monday.
Once the governor put pen to paper, the state became a leading force on gun control.
The legislature was voted last week, a major change to state firearm laws pushed through less than three weeks after an 18-year-old used one of the guns to kill 10 people at a supermarket in Buffalo.
The bill raising the age limit is the most significant part of a package of gun control measures announced earlier this week by Democratic legislative leaders and Gov. Kathy Hochul.
“This comprehensive package will close loopholes, give law enforcement the tools they need to prevent easy access to guns, and stop the sale of dangerous weapons to 18-year-olds,” she said.
Once put into law, it will restrict civilian purchases of bullet-resistant armor, which was worn by the killer in Buffalo, and require new guns to be equipped with microstamping technology that can help law enforcement investigators trace bullets to particular firearms.
The age limit bill passed the Senate along party lines, 43-20, and in the Assembly 102-47, and will now head to Hochul’s desk for her signature.
New York already requires people to be 21 to possess a handgun. Younger people would still be allowed to have other types of rifles and shotguns under the new law, but would be unable to buy 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 bill would also require anyone buying a semi-automatic rifle to get a license — something now only required for handguns.
“Thoughts and prayers won’t fix it, but this will,” the governor said as she signed the gun control legislation package Monday.
The package also requires microstamping on new semi-automatic pistols and deems it necessary for social media companies to improve response to and reporting of hateful content.
Many Republicans opposed the new gun limitations, arguing they would inconvenience law-abiding firearms owners and could be easily circumvented by people determined to get weapons.
Rochester City Councilman Willie Lightfoot believes a majority of voters support stronger gun measures. “Many are scared to leave their homes. They’re scared to go to the grocery store, to the malls, and public places,— they’re in fear. A lot of our residents are living in fear,” says Ligthfoot.
While this legislation is part of the battle, Sen. Jeremy Cooney (D-56th District), says more needs to be done in Washington.
“We are one nation– and there are guns coming into Rochester that are coming onto our streets from Pennsylvania, and Ohio– and without meaningful reform at the federal level, we here in Rochester and New York State are going to continue to struggle with illegal guns on our streets and ultimately that’s the solution that we need to work towards,” says Cooney.
Sen. Gustavo Rivera, a Bronx Democrat, said he had no problem putting up obstacles.
“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,” he said.
The age limit 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.
New York would join 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.
Legal fights over the legislation are expected. New York’s law limiting who can get a handgun license is already the subject of a lawsuit now before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Semi-automatic 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.
Previously, people as young as 16 could possess long guns like rifles and shotguns without a license in New York, although they had to be 18 to buy one from a federally licensed firearms dealer.
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’s what’s needed.”
New York lawmakers were also passing legislation expanding the list of people who can apply for an extreme risk protection order, a court order that can temporarily prohibit someone from purchasing or possessing a firearm if they are believed to be a danger to themselves or others.
“Even as we take action to protect New Yorkers, we recognize that this is a nationwide problem. I once again urge Congress to seize this moment and pass meaningful gun violence prevention measures. We have no time to waste,” Hochul said in a statement.
Check back with News 8 WROC as we will continue to update this developing story.