By Jessica Bagley
The Tonawanda News
Tonawanda News — The day after Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the nation’s strictest gun laws, local sportsmen, hunters and gun owners spoke out against the measure — arguing it won’t be effective and infringes on civilians’ constitutional rights.
The new law, named the SAFE NY Act, provides for an immediate ban on semi-automatic rifles, shotguns and pistols with a “military-style feature,” such as a flash suppressor or a bayonet mount and bans magazines that hold more than seven rounds of ammunition.
It also requires universal background checks for all those applying to buy guns and ammunition, whether from a private seller or from a gun show, and boosts the state’s power to confiscate arms from the mentally ill.
Then, to further vex protesters, President Barack Obama unveiled plans Wednesday for national gun control laws, following much of New York’s example.
But despite the state law’s wide reach, those who legally own guns are questioning if it will do anything to prevent the mass shootings communities all over the county have been experiencing.
“What makes a criminal a criminal is that he doesn’t obey these laws,” said Harold Schroeder, a club member at Mohawk Rifle and Pistol Club in the Town of Tonawanda. “All but one of these incidents occurred in a gun free zone...when you do the math, less than 1/4 of 1 percent of gun owners have been violent.”
Schroeder, the president of Judges & Police Conference of Erie County, has dedicated himself to protecting gun rights for decades. And like many others, he took issue with how the bill was passed — quickly, and without the usual three day discussion period.
Assemblyman Robin Schimminger, a Kenmore Democrat, was one of 43 in his body to vote against the measure, said he also objected to Cuomo’s method.
“The Senate began acting on the bill before the ink was even dry,” Schimminger said. “This is not the way a transparent government acts. ... The governor was very eager to get this passed before the president came out with his proposal.”
And although he’s a part of the Democratic party, he didn’t view his vote as unusual, citing other Democrats who also voted no.
“I have long respected the rights embodied within the Second Amendment,” Schimminger said. “This bill affects every law abiding citizen with any firearm, from a pistol to a hunting rifle.”
The law grandfathers in weapons that are now banned, but owners must register them within one year or provide proof they’ve been sold out of state.
Schimminger pointed to the nation’s “culture of violence” in movies and video games when questioned as to what needs to be corrected to prevent shootings.
“The legislation did not cover that,” he said.
North Tonawanda Police Chief Randy Szukala also questioned the law’s ability to address society’s long-standing issue of violence.
“We as humans invent ways to hurt each other,” Szukala said. “All you’re doing with a law like this is putting a mandate on it rather than getting to the root of it.”
He said, however, that he is in favor of the provision requiring licensed gun owners and those with pistol permits to renew their license, a practice he said amounts to good sense.
“Coming up with something that proves you can still handle a firearm. That’s probably the best part that I can see,” he said.
The recent legislation has caused a spike in National Rifle Administration membership, as well as local group numbers, including Tonawanda Sportsmen’s Club.
Their outdoor shooting range in North Tonawanda was packed Wednesday night, and membership secretary Don LeDonne said his membership applications are “flying out the door.”
“People are flocking to join,” he said. “They think there are power in numbers, and organizations may have a better chance at fighting all these changes.”
But despite the backlash, there are also many locals who are happy to see their state lead the charge toward gun control — and believe the move will help keep their children and loved ones stay safe when they go to school, the mall, and the movies.
“I support it ... and I think it shouldn’t have taken something like (the Newtown school shooting) to have this happen,” Heather Szalay, of Kenmore, said. “I support the right to bear arms, but sometimes, it gets out of hand.”Contact reporter Jessica Bagley at 693-1000, ext. 4150