Wednesday marks one-year anniversary of the Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act, or SAFE Act, after it quickly passed by the state Legislature and signed by Cuomo on Jan. 15, becoming the first new law of 2013.
Since the major provisions of the law took effect in March, 1,291 charges had been issued under the SAFE Act through Dec. 17, according to the state Division of Criminal Justice Services. Of those, 1,155 charges were for felony possession of an illegal firearm, which had been a misdemeanor prior to the new gun laws, according to Gannett’s Albany Bureau.
Cuomo said last Monday that the charges levied thus far speak to the positive impact of the law.
The SAFE Act “made the penalty for illegal guns much, much higher, which is something that the gun owners were arguing for for a long time,” Cuomo said. “The gun owners’ argument is that it’s not the legal owners, it’s the illegal gun owners. This law did that also. It raised the penalty on illegal gun ownership.”
The SAFE Act statistics show the vast majority of charges — 1,078 — came in New York City.
Fully 89 percent of the charges statewide came at the time of arraignment, not at the arrest, Gannett’s report over the weekend found.
A high rate of arraignment charges is not unusual for a major new law, according to state and local officials, because of the unfamiliarity with it at the time of arrest. But some conservative county sheriffs have vowed not to charge people under some SAFE Act provisions.
Outside of New York City, Monroe County had the most charges under the gun-control law with 28. Of those, 21 were for illegal firearm possession and 24 came at the time of arraignment.
In the Hudson Valley, Dutchess County had five SAFE Act charges. Westchester showed 13, while Rockland had just one, according to the state data.
Gun-rights groups say the statistics show a different story. The Capitol has been the scene of large protests since the law passed.
The vast majority of the SAFE Act charges in 2013 “were crimes last year and they’re crimes now,” said Tom King, president of the New York State Rifle and Pistol Association.
Various other portions of the law — including a ban on purchasing rifles with certain assault-weapon features and a limit on the number of bullets loaded in a magazine — are arbitrary and difficult to enforce, King said.
“You can look at it whatever way you want, but the fact remains that the people of New York state are not any safer because of the SAFE Act,” King said.