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Hochul and state legislature agree to tighten NY's gun laws in wake of Buffalo mass shooting

Gov. Kathy Hochul, wearing a blue dress, stands at a podium with a gold state seal on it that says, "NEW YORK STANDS WITH SURVIVORS."
Mike Groll
Office of the Governor
Gov. Kathy Hochul outlines her priorities for the end of the legislative session at a bill-signing ceremony for the Adult Survivors Act on May 24, 2022.

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul and legislative leaders have agreed on a package of gun control measures that includes banning the purchase of assault-style weapons to New Yorkers under the age of 21. The measures require that anyone who wants to purchase a semiautomatic rifle must first obtain a license, and the minimum age to buy it would be 21.

The alleged gunmen in the mass shootings at a Buffalo grocery store and at the school in Texas were both 18 and had recently purchased AR-15s.

A federal appeals court struck down a similar law in California earlier in May, saying that it was unconstitutional.

Hochul, speaking before the details of the bill were announced, said she won’t let that ruling deter her.

“I’m not going to let my fear of losing a court case to stop me from what I think is correct for New Yorkers and what will protect them,” Hochul said on May 25. “You may get a judge who actually cares and has common sense, who would understand that these are not punitive measures.”

Other bills would make the buying of bulletproof vests illegal unless people who are in law enforcement or related professions purchase them. Both alleged shooters in Buffalo and Texas bought and wore body armor.

Social media networks operating in New York would have to adopt transparent policies on how they respond to hate speech on their platforms and make ways to report hateful conduct easily accessible.

Another bill authorizes the state Division of Criminal Justice Services to determine if microstamping of semi-automatic pistols is technologically feasible, and if it is, to establish a program to implement it. Hochul said microstamping creates a “fingerprint” on the bullets that can help law enforcement more easily track the guns and potentially link the weapons to other crimes.

However, she said gun manufactures have been resistant.

“The industry needs to wake up and say, ‘We’ll be partners in this,’” Hochul said. “Because I would think that given the liability involved, that they want to do everything they can to make sure their products are not used in the commission of any crime, and certainly not in commission of a mass slaughter of innocent children.”

Additionally, the state’s red flag laws would be tightened to require that police and district attorneys file extreme risk protection orders to seize firearms whenever they receive credible information that someone might be a danger to themselves or others.

The red flag law was not invoked when the alleged Buffalo shooter threatened to commit a murder-suicide at his high school in 2021.

In a statement, New York Republican Party Chair Nick Langworthy criticized the measures.

“In typical Albany fashion," Langworthy said, "Kathy Hochul is following in the footsteps of her mentor, Andrew Cuomo, and focused on making cheap headlines for her primary instead of making New Yorkers safe.”

Langworthy said if Hochul and legislative leaders cared about shooting victims, they’d repeal New York’s bail reform laws that ended most forms of cashless bail.

The measures are expected to be acted on before the Legislature ends its 2022 session sometime later this week.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. WBFO listeners are accustomed to hearing DeWitt’s insightful coverage throughout the day, including expanded reports on Morning Edition.