AG Eric Schneiderman: National gun control needed for NY laws to work

New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman speaks

New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman speaks with the media during a roundtable discussion at his White Plains office. (March 28, 2013) (Credit: Rory Glaeseman)

As reports released Thursday detailed the massive cache of weapons found in Newtown gunman Adam Lanza's home, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman called for federal gun laws that mimic New York's own SAFE Act to combat gun violence on a national level.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo signed the SAFE Act into law in New York in January, in response to the Connecticut school shooting that left 26 people dead. The law banned the sale of assault-style weapons, reduced the number of rounds allowed in ammunition magazines and required mental health reports to be included in background checks on purchasers when weapons are sold.

Schneiderman emphasized Thursday that problems beyond New York's borders could undermine gun control enforcement in the Empire State.


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"This is a big part of the problem of guns coming in from other states; there's a limit to what we can do in New York by making our laws tougher," Schneiderman said.

Some states, he said, haven't been diligent enough in keeping track of mental health and criminal records that end up in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System that gun dealers use before selling a firearm.

"The system is only as good as the database, and that's one of the things we're hoping that our federal counterparts will get right," he said during a roundtable discussion Thursday afternoon at his office in White Plains. "This is a national system, and if we're loading every relevant record in New York but people in the states around us are not, we still have a problem."

TAGGING SYSTEM 'WORKS'

Until the SAFE Act took effect, gun show operators in New York were able to skirt requirements on background checks. Based on a law signed in 2000 by then-Gov. George E. Pataki, the only mandated enforcement at gun shows consisted of signs announcing the need for background checks along with a computer and an operator federally licensed to run NICS reports.

"It didn't impose any liability," Schneiderman said.

Now gun show operators face tougher penalties for failing to perform background checks. To make checks easier, they can opt to create a system that tags guns with the name of a specific owner or company as it enters a gun show. Upon exit, a security guard checks to make sure a purchaser has a receipt for an NICS screening.

"I think this a good model for how things should be getting done all over America," Schneiderman said. "There are some folks that have a sort of instinctive reaction that this is a step toward reducing Second Amendment rights, but once they actually think about it and think about the procedures, everyone has signed on."

So far, 23 gun show operators -- about 80 percent of the operators in the state -- have signed up to implement the tagging system, including Westchester Collectors Inc., which runs shows in Westchester and Orange counties.

"This has been tried in gun shows all over the state; it works very well," Schneiderman said. "The gun show operators have been very cooperative about this, and I think that this is one issue that people can agree on."

Staff members from Schneiderman's office intermittently will make appearances at gun shows that sign up for voluntary enforcement programs to ensure procedures are being followed properly.

"I will tell you that in New York, the overwhelming majority of sportsmen, gun enthusiasts, all are in favor of background checks," Schneiderman said. "They do not want people with criminal records or mental health issues getting guns."

Schneiderman wants to see similar action taken in other states.

"We've been able to accomplish that here and we're using this example as we weigh in with our federal counterparts to say, 'This is not hard. It can be done. It's not burdensome,' " Schneiderman said. "Guns can still flow in from states with more lax rules, and we are very, very focused on trying to help our federal counterparts get something done on this."

'BRIDGING THE GAP'

While standing strong behind the SAFE Act, Schneiderman said he has heard many complaints from both sides of the aisle. Now, he says, is the time to come together and treat safety as the paramount issue.

"Well over 3,000 people have been killed [by guns] since Newtown, and for the federal government to have not taken action -- and in fact, it would appear to be taking things off the table in that period of time -- should be unacceptable to our representatives in Washington, should be unacceptable to the people of the State of New York and the rest of the country," he said.

In the future, Schneiderman hopes for a resurrection of a federal assault weapons ban and tougher regulations on gun sales.

"We have to be able to go after people who are trafficking guns," he said. "Right now, the federal law actually prevents those of us in state law enforcement from effectively doing our jobs. We're not allowed to use gun trace data in gun-trafficking investigations. I'm very optimistic that that's going to be changed."

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