ALBANY – A Chautauqua County man appears to be the first person arrested under New York’s new gun-control law, charged with selling newly banned assault-style weapons to an undercover police officer.
Benjamin M. Wassell, 32, of Silver Creek, was accused of twice selling weapons now prohibited under the New York Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act, according to State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.
If Wassell is convicted of the felonies, he faces a possible prison sentence of seven years.
The sales to a State Police undercover investigator took place at Aunt Millie’s Restaurant and at Lakeshore Lanes in the Town of Hanover, according to a criminal complaint against Wassell obtained Thursday by The Buffalo News.
State police arrested Wassell on Thursday, and he was arraigned in Hanover Town Court. He could not be reached to comment, and prosecutors said he did not have an attorney.
“By selling these illegal firearms, Mr. Wassell’s actions had potentially dangerous consequences for New Yorkers,” said Schneiderman, whose office conducted the joint investigation with the State Police. “We have seen far too much gun violence in our state in recent months, and the sale of illegal semiautomatic weapons will not go unpunished."
Schneiderman’s office believes the arrest is the first in the state since the gun-control legislation was passed two months ago.
Prosecutors alleged that Wassell on Jan. 24 tried to sell a Del-Ton AR-15 rifle to a police investigator operating undercover. The gun is considered a banned weapon now in New York, and selling it is a Class D felony, because it had several military features, including a pistol grip, telescoping butt stock and bayonet mount.
Wassel also faces a Class A misdemeanor charge for knowingly making a false statement to police.
The investigator and Wassell finalized the deal during a meeting at Aunt Millie’s Restaurant, where the weapon was sold for $1,900, and included 299 rounds of ammunition and six large-capacity clips, the complaint states.
The sale was made nine days after the NY SAFE Act was passed by legislators and signed into law by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.
The investigator kept in contact with Wassell after the first sale to try to purchase another weapon, according to the state complaint.
The second sale to the undercover investigator took place Feb. 24 in the parking lot of Lakeshore Lanes and involved an Armalite AR-10 Magnum semiautomatic weapon. The $2,600 sale included 21 rounds of ammunition.
Both transactions were recorded by the investigator. In the second sale, the investigator told Wassell, according to the complaint, that he or she had a felony conviction for a domestic violence incident.
The complaint states that Wassell was recorded on tape responding: “The whole felony, banned-for-life thing, it’s stupid.’’
The NY SAFE Act bans the sale of assault-style weapons, includes new gun registration requirements, tracks ammunition sales, requires mental health professionals to report patients deemed a threat so police can confiscate any weapons they might own and adds new penalties for crimes committed with guns.
Wassell, authorities said, was released on his own recognizance Thursday because he has no r convictions and is not considered a flight risk.
Wassell is an Iraq War veteran, according to a law enforcement source. “He was very knowledgeable about weaponry,” the source said.
When Wassell sold the first gun, it would have been illegal even before the NY SAFE Act because the gun had multiple military-style features, authorities said. They noted that second gun sale was considered a SAFE Act violation because the gun had one military-style feature.
“To arrest a person on entrapment, I don’t think is a good idea,” Harold “Budd” Schroeder, chairman of the Shooters Committee on Political Education, or SCOPE, told The News on Thursday evening.
“It’s a law that should be illegal,” he added, “because it doesn’t do anything to cut down on gun violence. Maybe by the time it gets to trial, it will be repealed.”
News Staff Reporter Dale Anderson contributed to this report. email: firstname.lastname@example.org