NY's new gun law ensures privacy for many

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks after signing New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks after signing New York's Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act into law during a ceremony in the Red Room at the Capitol in Albany. (Jan. 15, 2013) Photo Credit: AP

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New York's new gun control bill allows broad categories of people who have pistol permits and grandfathered assault weapons to block their names and addresses from being released under the state's Freedom of Information Law.

Under the new bill, counties would continue to grant handgun permits but they would have to be renewed every five years. Owners of assault weapons also would have to register their guns with the state.

But owners of shotguns and hunting rifles without "military-style" features, such as an additional pistol grip, would remain exempt from permit or database requirements, Cuomo administration officials said.

When submitting applications to their county, residents may ask to have their information shielded from public view. Handgun owners could qualify for a privacy exemption if they have "reason to believe he or she may be subject to unwarranted harassment upon disclosure of such information," according to a copy of the bill.

Political support for the provision came after The Journal News, a Hudson Valley newspaper, published an online database of local gun permit holders and their addresses.

Active and retired law officers, witnesses of crimes, and jurors who are or have been involved in criminal cases can make the request. Handgun-buying spouses, partners and household members of these potentially at-risk individuals also could opt to shield their data from journalists or members of the public.

Similarly, victims of domestic violence and other individuals whose lives would be endangered could check a box on the county forms blocking the release of their data.

"This seems clearly weighted toward the applicant's privacy -- the presumption is that you get the privacy exception," said Robin Charlow, a professor at the Maurice A. Deane School of Law at Hofstra University."The grounds for it can be interpreted quite broadly, and you would have to go to court to get the record."Counties would submit all the names and addresses of handgun owners to a statewide database so law officers can determine whether any individuals are barred from owning guns because of criminal convictions, for example, officials said.

The state database also wouldn't be subject to disclosures under the Freedom of Information Law.

Similarly, the new law also obliges the owners of assault weapons to register with a State Police database. But their personal information could not be released under the Freedom of Information Law.

New York State's Freedom of Information Law allows information to be withheld if it is deemed an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy, according to Bob Freeman, executive director, New York State Committee on Open Government, the advisory body on this law.

Society's views on "what is intimate or what is risqué or what is personal" are swiftly evolving, especially with the use of social media, he said.

It would be a Class A misdemeanor in the second degree to submit false information, Freeman noted.

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