Editorial: New York's new gun law slightly off the mark

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signs New York's New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signs New York's Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act into law during a ceremony in the Red Room at the Capitol in Albany, N.Y. Also pictured from left are Senate co-leader Jeffrey Klein, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, and Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins. (Jan. 15, 2013) Photo Credit: AP

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When Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and state lawmakers signed off on a set of gun laws last month, they proudly declared them the toughest and most comprehensive in the nation.

For the most part, New York's new laws hit their desired target: They include stricter bans on assault weapons, tougher penalties for criminals using firearms, and background checks on ammunition sales, as well as provisions for mental health, safer storage and stricter relicensing. So it's no surprise they've angered gun-rights advocates, many of whom marched at the state Capitol yesterday.

Regardless of one's views on gun control, the process was rushed, as if the goal was also to have the first set of laws passed in the emotional aftermath of the massacre of 27 people, including 20 children, in Newtown Conn. Negotiations occurred in private. The public wasn't involved, and some senators said they had only minutes to review the 78-page bill before voting around midnight. That's why the NY SAFE Act, or New York Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act, needs revisions.

As the law is written, many hunters, sportsmen and police officers using clips with more than seven bullets would be breaking the law. The legal size of a magazine, which went from 10 to seven, seems arbitrary, if not silly; owners in many cases would have to sell their magazines across state lines or face fines and potential jail time. Law-abiding owners may play by the rules, but it's unlikely criminals will, which makes this little more than a feel-good talking point.

In response to a Hudson Valley newspaper's roundly criticized decision to publish an online map of gun permit owners, including their names and addresses, with little context or journalistic value, the pendulum on restrictions to public information swung too far the other way.

The SAFE Act allows a broad spectrum of gun owners to "opt out" of having their permit applications made public. Withholding personally identifiable information makes sense in certain cases -- such as for retired and active police and correction officers, jurors and those who have served on a grand jury, witnesses to a crime, or those covered under a protection order. But one exception allows a person to check a box on a form for fear of unwarranted harassment; that's far too vague, difficult for the applicant to prove and potentially unenforceable.

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Regardless of who can opt out, data such as ZIP codes, gender and the reasons for checking the box should be available to the public: There needs to be a better balance of privacy and the public's right to know.

With a sense of urgency to pass the law, Cuomo waived the required three-day legislative waiting period -- using a "message of necessity" -- under the belief there would be a rush on gun sales, and for fear that fragile deals between Democrats and Republicans would be blasted to smithereens. The State Senate voted on the bill after 11 p.m. With a little more time, the Assembly waited until the next day. Cuomo's emergency-rule maneuvering has come into question, but lawmakers would do better to take a shot at striking a deal that outlaws late-night "vampire voting." That would prevent the people's business from being done at peculiar hours.

New York may have been first to pass tougher gun laws, but in its haste, the state missed a few marks.

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