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Brooklyn lawyers weigh in on revolutionary NY gun legislation

A memorial in a yard near the Sandy Hook Elementary School on Monday, the one-month anniversary of the mass shooting that left 26 dead, including 20 children, in Newtown, Conn.. AP photo by Jessica Hill

Brooklyn Daily Eagle

While New York state’s lawmakers were working Tuesday afternoon to approve the toughest gun control law in the nation,
comments by members of the Brooklyn legal community revealed that even here, some were completely in favor of gun control, while others felt it had to be balanced with the protections inherent in the Second Amendment.

Jay Schwitzman, Esq., a Brooklyn Attorney who handles gun and weapon charges, said, "I am in support of the governor's initiative to get guns off of the street and out of hands of those who should not have them.

“Of course, this must be weighed against the U.S. Constitutional Amendment granting persons the right to protect themselves and ultimately bear arms."

Abe George, a candidate running for Kings County D.A. in 2013, said, “Within the last decade, Brooklyn has led the city in homicides and shootings.  As many strides as this city has made in reducing violent crime over the last 20 years, there is no acceptable level of homicides or shootings.  

“We must do more to end this senseless violence on our streets. No parent should live in fear that their child may not return home at the end of the day.”

Kenneth Thompson, another candidate for Brooklyn DA, said,  "The common sense provisions pushed by Gov. Cuomo are a major step forward in reducing gun violence. These new laws will be powerful tools for prosecutors in the years to come."

Assemblyman Joseph Lentol, a Democrat who represents Greenpoint and Williamsburg and a sponsor of the new law, said, "I am proud, as I know that others are, that New York is taking the lead on this issue because we must prevent and protect our public from the mass destruction that can now take place in literally seconds because we do allow our citizens to own weaponry."

But Brooklyn attorney Robert Reuland, who handles weapons possessions charges, said, "I do not think that stricter gun control laws will change anything. We already have some of the strictest laws in the country, and yet we have one the highest rates of gun violence. There seems to be some disconnect between the legislation and the crime stats.

"People have a right to own weapons but the government also has a right to regulate that possession.

"When you are talking about gun control, you will inevitably have to face the fact that we have an amendment to our national constitution that provides for a right to bear arms. The right to own a gun is not just a policy it is a constitutional right. Until that is changed, it will be a particularly difficult barrier to overcome,” he said.

The Democratic-led Assembly debated the measure Tuesday, then passed it. It passed the Senate run by a Republican-dominated coalition late Monday night. Gov. Andrew Cuomo helped craft the legislation and pledged to sign it quickly.

Republican Assemblyman Marc Butler accused Cuomo of issuing the bill "by fiat" instead of a democratic process that should have included time for public hearings and debate. Cuomo had issued an order that suspends the three days' public review for bills required under the state constitution. Some senators said late Monday night they had seen the lengthy bill for 20 minutes before the debate and vote began.

"We're trampling on our constitutional rights," Butler said in Tuesday's floor debate. "We make a sham of the legislative process. ... We reached a point in our history where government has gone too far in every aspect of our lives."

Cuomo on Monday called assault weapons "a scourge on society" six days after making gun control a centerpiece of his agenda in his State of the State address. The bipartisan effort was fueled by the Newtown tragedy that took the lives of 20 first graders and six educators. "At what point do you say, 'No more innocent loss of life'?"

The measure also calls for restrictions on ammunition and the sale of guns.

Under current state law, assault weapons are defined by having two "military rifle" features, such as folding stock, muzzle flash suppressor or bayonet mount. The proposal would reduce that to one feature, including the popular pistol grip. The language specifically targeted the military-style rifle used in the Newtown shootings.

Current owners of those guns will have to register them.

Private sales of assault weapons to someone other than an immediate family member would be subject to a background check through a dealer. New Yorkers also would be barred from buying assault weapons over the Internet, and failing to safely store a weapon could lead to a misdemeanor charge.

Ammunition magazines would be restricted to seven bullets, from the current 10, and current owners of higher-capacity magazines would have a year to sell them out of state. An owner caught at home with eight or more bullets in a magazine could face a misdemeanor charge.

Stores that sell ammunition will have to register with the state, run background checks on buyers of bullets and keep an electronic database of bullet sales.

In another provision, a therapist who believes a mental health patient made a credible threat to use a gun illegally would be required to report it to a mental health director who would have to notify the state. A patient's gun could be taken from him or her.

The legislation also increases sentences for gun crimes including the shooting of a first responder that Cuomo called the "Webster provision." Last month in the western New York town of Webster, two firefighters were killed after responding to a fire set by the shooter, who eventually killed himself.

January 16, 2013 - 9:33am


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