2008-06-06 / Top Stories

Paterson Sets Bill To Reduce Gun Violence

Governor David A. Paterson has proposed legislation designed to reduce gun violence without infringing on the rights of law-abiding gun owners. The proposed legislation would increase public safety by providing law enforcement officials with more complete information to ensure guns are purchased legally. The legislation also includes proposals in response to the Virginia Tech shooting last year.

In particular, the bill: (1) allows relevant mental health records to be included in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS); (2) improves the use of the State's Combined Ballistic Identification System (CoBIS) in solving serious gun crimes; (3) updates and clarifies the State's gun licensing laws; and (4) provides for increased security at gun shops, including requirements for licensing and training of employees who handle guns.

The Governor's reform bill would significantly improve the State's ability to submit mental health records to the federal NICS index. The index, which was enhanced last year through legislation sponsored by U.S. Senator Charles Schumer and Congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy, contains records concerning criminal convictions, involuntary mental health commitments and other events that may disqualify a person from purchasing a handgun. While those records are not predictors of violent tendencies, they give a more complete background of the license applicant. Federal firearms licensers are required to check the NICS index before selling a handgun in order to verify that federal law does not prohibit the customer from purchasing the weapon.

"New York and other states have a responsibility to improve the safety of its residents by disclosing information that could help prevent the type of violence that took place at Virginia Tech last year," said Governor Paterson. "It is unacceptable that in the decade since the National Instant Criminal Background Check System index began operating, only four mental health records from New York have been included in the index. New York is committed to constantly improving public safety for its residents, and this legislation is a major step in that direction."

The bill proposed by the Governor would allow for information concerning an individual's involuntary commitment to a mental health facility to be provided to the NICS index. By focusing on this small population of individuals who may pose a considerable safety risk, this would help create a more accurate database of individuals who would be disqualified from purchasing a handgun.

Senator Chuck Schumer said: "It took the tragedy at Virginia Tech to push it forward, but after five years of hard work the bill to make it harder for people with disqualifying mental conditions from getting guns- the NICS Improvement Amendments Act- is finally law. It's now up to the states to do the hard work to get their records up and into the system. And I'm pleased that New York is moving in the right direction to get as many records as possible into the system, without jeopardizing privacy."

Congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy said: "I am glad to see that New York is taking such positive steps in its efforts to comply with the NICS Improvements Amendments Act, which I authored in Congress. Reforms like New York's will go a long way toward keeping guns out of the wrong hands and improving the current system."

Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn. said: "We in local government strongly support our partners on the state and federal levels when it comes to providing information that will help to avoid gun tragedies in the future. We owe it to all New Yorkers to take whatever steps we can to give law enforcement the tools they need to keep guns out of the wrong hands. I am proud to stand with Governor Paterson and endorse legislation that will do just that."

Michael Hogan, Commissioner of the state Office of Mental Health, said: "We must be mindful that popular myths about people with psychiatric illnesses being disproportionately prone to violence are untrue and only contribute to the stigma surrounding mental illness that discourages people from seeking treatment. This legislation strikes the appropriate balance by providing limited access to the pertinent mental health information that will help to avoid tragedies in the future."

A second major component of the Governor's proposed legislation would require state and local law enforcement agencies to submit relevant crime scene ballistic evidence related to a homicide, an attempted homicide and a conspiracy to commit a homicide to the State Police. The State Police will then compare that evidence with the CoBIS database, which contains almost 200,000 computerized ballistic images from firearms that have been sold in this State. Comparing these images to ballistic evidence recovered at crime scenes can help law enforcement link the crime scene evidence to the point of sale evidence, providing investigative leads that could help identify the perpetrator of a crime.

The Governor's proposed legislation contains numerous other provisions to enhance public safety, including measures that would help law enforcement prevent guns from getting in the hands of criminals. For example, the bill:

Requires employees of gun shops who handle and sell guns to undergo a criminal background check, and eventually to obtain a gun license; Requires that all applicants for a gun license successfully complete a gun safety course

Requires the Superintendent of State Police to issue regulations to ensure that gun shops are operating securely and to ensure that gun shop employees are properly trained in gun safety and laws regulating the purchase and sale of firearms;

Clarifies the circumstances under which gun shops will be subject to inspection by the State Police; and, Updates and clarifies confusing provisions in New York's gun licensing statutes that have led to their inconsistent application.

These amendments will not restrict the rights of law-abiding gun owners, but will greatly enhance law-enforcement efforts to reduce criminal activity in the State, including crimes involving the use of firearms. Gloria Cruz, Bronx Chapter Leader of New Yorkers Against Gun Violence, said: "We need to remember our fallen angels. We must strengthen our state and national gun laws, to keep dangerous weapons out of dangerous hands. I, and the thousands of families in New York who have been ripped apart by gun violence, thank Governor Paterson for pushing this issue. Our loved ones did not have a chance to live full lives, but they did not die in vain."

Governor Paterson concluded: "I applaud Senator Schumer and Congresswoman McCarthy for being the leaders on this front at the federal level. I would also like to commend the Office of Mental Health, Office of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities, State Police and Department of Criminal Justice Services for their extensive cross agency collaboration to create this proposed legislation and reduce gun violence in our state."

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