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Long Island

On LI, some gun dealers won't conduct background checks on private sales

Burt Benowitz, owner of Benson’s Gun Shop in

Burt Benowitz, owner of Benson’s Gun Shop in Coram, says he’s not doing background checks for private gun sales. (April 6, 2013) Credit: Ed Betz

WASHINGTON -- New York's new SAFE Act requires gun buyers in private sales to go to a federally licensed firearm dealer to get a background check, but several Long Island gun stores said last week they won't provide that service.

The stores include both local gun shops such as Edward's Discount in Riverhead and outlets of national chains including Sports Authority, Dick's Sporting Goods and Walmart.

"We've turned down numerous people. Other dealers are doing the same thing," said Burt Benowitz, owner of Benson's Gun Shop in Coram.

That development could create another hurdle for the federal gun legislation with mandatory universal background check language similar to the New York law when it comes up in the Senate this week.

Like New York's law, which went into effect March 15, the bill sponsored by Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) requires all gun buyers to undergo background checks by licensed firearm dealers but doesn't require dealers to do those checks.

A Schumer aide said the bill will likely be amended and could include creation of a Web portal or phone line so private gun sellers could do their own background checks.

New York State did not have an immediate response.

The National Rifle Association opposes background check expansion, saying it leads to a federal firearms registry and eventually gun confiscation. Schumer said that won't occur.

Benowitz and other gun shop owners said they don't object to background checks, but say the $10 state fee for each check is too low for the time it takes.

"It's simple economics," Benowitz said. "They should have set a more reasonable fee."

But lawmakers in New York and in Congress must walk a fine line on setting the fee -- make it too high and it will stir opposition. The NRA already calls fees a "tax" on gun buyers.

Records show there are 114 federal firearm license holders on Long Island, but gun dealers said most of them are individuals and it's unclear whether they will conduct background checks.

Some of those listed also may not be in a position to conduct the checks: Two have been charged with illegal gun sales in the past two years.

Some gun shops said they're glad to do checks since they'll bring in foot traffic and revenue from the $10 fees.

"We do background all the time," said Robert Greco, manager of L.I. Outdoorsman in Rockville Centre. "It's going to make a little bit more money for us because we're going to charge for it."

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