At the Niagara Gun Range on the border of North Tonawanda, pistol permit classes are booked through May.
People coming for target practice have had to wait an hour and a half to shoot.
And the store can barely keep up with customers’ demand for guns that hold 10-round magazines ahead of the April 15 ban date for detachable magazines that can hold more than seven rounds.
“Andy has been one of my best salesmen,” said range owner Dennis Deasy.
Andy being Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo. The governor is the one who championed the NY SAFE Act, a sweeping set of gun laws enacted in the wake of the December shootings of elementary school students and staff in Connecticut and volunteer firefighters near Rochester.
The new legislation, hailed by gun-control advocates as among the strictest in the nation and reviled by gun-rights advocates across the state and nation, was quickly passed and signed in January.
The Cuomo administration has argued that the governor invoked the emergency measure to avoid a run on guns ahead of its passage. But gun-rights advocates and people connected with the gun industry locally say the NY SAFE Act has only inspired people to buy guns as fast as they can.
“Look at what it’s done,” said Wilson Curry of Williston Auctions, who mainly deals in antique and collectible guns and is a vocal gun-rights advocate. “Look at what it’s created. He created a stampede of people buying every firearm they can get a hold of.”
It also may have created new gun owners and gun-rights advocates.
James Emmick, owner of Firearms Training of WNY, has been adding classes to keep up with demand.
“People are coming to the class and they say: ‘I’ve never thought about owning a gun before in my life but they’re trying to take away that right. So I want to own one,’ ” he said.
The SAFE Act does not put any new restrictions on who can own a gun.
But it does widen the definition of what an assault weapon is and it put an immediate ban on sales and purchases of such firearms. Those aspects of the act went into effect Jan. 15.
Other provisions are being rolled out over the next year and half.
Starting Friday, for instance, universal background checks for all firearm sales – including private sales – will be required.
And on April 15, detachable magazines that hold more than seven rounds no longer will be legal to buy or sell.
Gun-control advocates say such provisions are reasonable changes to existing gun laws.
Gun-rights advocates say they chip away at their Second Amendment rights, are difficult to enforce and are goading people into buying more guns.
A huge surge in sales
Local gun sales show there’s been a huge surge over the last couple of months.
Take for instance the Erie County Clerk’s office, which oversees the Pistol Permit Department. Any Erie County resident who wants to purchase a handgun is required to obtain a pistol permit first from this office. There is no limit on the number of guns that can be on that permit, but handgun owners who already have permits must get another one if they want to purchase more handguns, explained County Clerk Christopher Jacobs.
During January and February of this year, the number of Erie County residents who submitted applications for a new pistol permit – meaning they didn’t have one before – was 852. That’s nearly double the number of those who applied in January and February of 2012.
As for Erie County residents who already had a pistol permit on file and submitted a subsequent application, 1,715 applied to add more handguns to their collections this January and February.
The previous year, 962 applications for added handguns were submitted for the same two months.
“Pistols would normally receive 10 to 12 submitted applications per day,” Deputy Clerk Michael J. Cecchini said in an email detailing the county permit figures. “Now the average is 25 to 30. The max day was on Jan. 18th, when we took in 45 applications.”
Statewide figures point to a marked increase as well.
There were 76,001 background checks run for New York in January and February of 2013, according to the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services Division, which handles the federally mandated background checks for purchases of firearms and explosives.
During those same months last year, 51,086 background checks were run for New York.
And back in 2008, the FBI ran 33,761 checks for the state.
The data does not reflect how many guns were involved in each purchase. It also does not indicate the number of background checks that led to denials of a purchase of firearms or explosives. However, the FBI said on its website that, of the 100 million background checks it has performed over the last decade, there were 700,000 denials.
Sales spurred by tragedy
Nationally, gun sales have soared since the Sandy Hook elementary school shootings Dec. 14 that took the lives of 20 young students, six teachers and staff members, and the shooter’s mother.
Last year marked the highest number of federal background checks the FBI ever ran since starting the program – more than 19.5 million.
In December alone, more than 2.7 million background checks were done. In November, following the re-election of President Obama, another 2 million checks were run.
In New York State, the Cuomo administration countered that the recent spike in gun sales proved that they were right in pushing through its legislation without the three-day “aging” period for the law that is supposed to occur.
When Cuomo signed the act Jan. 15, it put an immediate ban on an assault weapon, which was redefined under the new law to be any semiautomatic firearm, whether a pistol or rifle, with a detachable magazine with one military-style feature.
“[Legislature] leaders asked for a message of necessity because they agreed with us that the SAFE Act immediate ban on assault weapons should be just that. What you described proves our point that there would have been a run on these dangerous weapons if we delayed action,” said Richard Azzopardi, spokesman for Cuomo’s office.
A run on big magazines
Local gun shop owners say the current boom in sales is being boosted by what happens on April 15. That’s the start date for a provision in the NY SAFE Act that bans the sale or purchase of a detachable magazine that can hold more than seven rounds. The previous magazine limit was 10 rounds.
Under the new law, people who already own such a 10-round magazine are allowed to keep them, but may not have more than seven rounds in the magazine unless at an incorporated gun range or at certified competitions.
At the Niagara Gun Range, customers are buying up “any type of gun that has a 10-round magazine,” said Michael Deasy, Dennis Deasy’s son who co-owns the range. They’re also buying up the magazines to have as back-ups.
The majority of the guns he sells are made to hold 10-round magazines, he said.
“It reduces my selection by about 90 percent,” he said.
Gun owners are also buying up ammunition ahead of Jan. 15, 2014.
On that date, new regulations on ammunition kick in, requiring ammunition dealers to register with the State Police. Buyers would have to pass a state background check and the purchase, including the amount of ammunition, would be provided to the State Police. It also will ban direct Internet sales of ammunition.
“There’s no ammunition for any firearms,” said Emmick, the firearms trainer. He recalled a dip in inventory in certain types after the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq began. Now, he said, even .22 caliber rounds are hard to come by.
Another part of law goes into effect this Friday, when universal background checks for the purchase of firearms – including private sales – will be required. But there hasn’t been much grumbling about the provision among gun owners.
Dennis Deasy said he’s happy to handle federal background checks for anyone who wants them done for private sales. He’ll charge $10 per person.
But, he said, he’s not counting on a lot of business from the extra background checks.
There’s no real way to tell whether a private sale happened after the March 15 start date, Deasy pointed out.
“They’ll say: ‘I sold that a long time ago,’ ” he said. “It’s a totally unenforceable law.”