ALBANY – The governor has blinked.
After insisting New York needed to ban the sale of larger size bullet clips, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Wednesday said gun dealers still will be able to sell magazines that hold up to 10 bullets.
Under the state’s new gun law, beginning April 15 the state would ban gun clips holding anything more than seven bullets.
Cuomo’s change in position was dismissed by gun rights groups as merely a finger-in-the-air move by a governor who has been battered in the polls since the gun law was approved in January.
The New York affiliate of the National Rifle Association will file what will be a closely watched lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the NY-SAFE Act.
In a confusing back-and-forth session with reporters Wednesday, the governor described the new plan as a mere technical change to rid the law of an “inconsistency” that lets gun owners possess 10-round clips at shooting ranges and competitions but requires no more than seven rounds at all other times.
While the governor sought to downplay the change, his own press release touting the law in January had noted New York “will have the strongest ban on high-capacity magazines in the country, with a limit on capacity of seven rounds, down from the current limit of ten.”
Gun manufacturers have said they would not sell New York-specific magazines to accommodate the lower limit. Gun rights advocates said Cuomo was merely looking at his own poll drop since January.
“When your popularity goes into the toilet because you passed a draconian law in 22 minutes … he’s running a little scared right now, and rightfully so,” said Dennis Deasy, owner of the Niagara Gun Range in Wheatfield.
Tom King, president of the New York State Rifle and Pistol Association, the NRA-related group filing a lawsuit, said the law is still deeply flawed.
“It doesn’t mean anything to us,” he said of Cuomo’s call to change the maximum bullet magazine size that can be sold in New York.
“It’s a weak attempt to try to get around a number of either contradictions or unconstitutional issues that are inherent in the legislation. I don’t make anything of it.”
If the governor is trying to turn around the increasingly negative poll numbers among Republicans, independents and upstate residents, King said Wednesday’s announcement will have little impact.
“Everybody knows he’s poll-driven, so of course he’s got to be concerned about that,” he said. “But just making 10-round magazines available so gun shop owners can continue to sell guns is not going to change how people feel about the law or him. That’s just not going to happen.”
The governor said that while 10-round clips still can be sold, it still will be illegal for gun owners to place more than seven bullets in them unless they are at a gun range or a competition. He said the only other changes being contemplated for the law are to make it clear that police officers can use the larger size magazines and to answer concerns raised by film and television studios, which get big tax breaks for production work done in New York State; the studios want to make certain they can still let actors use assault weapons in scenes shot in New York.
Cuomo said any push to permit people to still put up to 10 bullets in the 10-bullet capacity clips is a “nonstarter.” Word of the less-strict gun magazine provision was first floated Tuesday by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Manhattan Democrat and one of the Legislature’s veteran gun control advocates. He said Tuesday it was never an issue for him if gun owners were allowed to keep up to 10 bullets in a magazine in their homes as personal protection.
Wednesday, Silver said allowing 10-bullet magazine sales to continue after April 15 makes the law more consistent. “It’s a change to accommodate commerce, basically. They’re not being made in sevens,” Silver said of clip sizes sold by manufacturers.
Silver said he was not worried about more 10-bullet clips being in circulation. “The issue is not the magazines. The issue is the people and what they do with them … We’re banning assault weapons. We’re not going back on banning assault weapons, and that’s a tremendous accomplishment in this state,” the Democratic leader said.
Deasy, the Niagara Gun Range owner, said his shop will continue to sell all the weapons it had sold before the assault weapon ban. “If it’s a matter of removing the magazine, my invoice will state no magazine was sold. This law is a joke,” he said of gun owners who will merely have to drive a short distance to Pennsylvania to get the ammunition clips they need for semi-automatic weapons.