CONFER: Understanding New York’s gun storage law

Bob Confer

Last month, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed into law new standards for gun storage.

The revised law amends section 265.45 of the penal law to provide that anyone who owns or has custody of a rifle, shotgun or firearm and resides with anyone younger than 16 years old  — or will be visited by a child of the same age range — shall not store or otherwise leave that weapon out of his or her immediate possession or control without having first securely locked the gun in a safe or rendered it incapable of being fired by using a trigger guard or similar means.

The author of the original bill, Democratic Sen. Liz Krueger, said the bill addressed what she saw as flaws in the SAFE Act regarding storage and it was inspired by 12-year old Nicholas Naumkin, who, in 2010, was shot in the head by his 12-year-old friend at the friend’s home while they were playing with a gun that the friend’s father owned. Nicholas died the following day.

In the bill’s narrative, Krueger also cited older statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, which said that, in 2010, 116 New Yorkers younger than age 19 were killed by guns (93 were homicides, 13 were suicides and 10 were undetermined).

The new rules go into effect 60 days after the signing, so gun owners need to be prepared in a hurry if they weren’t already.

A conviction for violating the law could result in a penalty of a year in jail and a $1,000 fine (these are harsher punishments that came about from amendments to earlier drafts of the law). If guns are not secured when a child is visiting that home, a gun owner could face a $250 fine.

It wasn’t noted in either scenario but one could likely assume that significant and/or repeated offenses could result in confiscation of firearms, especially with the renewal standards now imposed on pistol permits (which we were told at their issuance were lifetime permits).

And, there’s the very real possibility of Child Protective Services possibly being involved in your lives.

So, there’s more than enough reason, beside safety, for gun owners to comply, even those who fall into the “it’s my guns, my rights and I’ll do what I want” category. Remember, this is New York, where the Second Amendment is interpreted a little differently by the state. Having a cavalier approach can put you in some really serious trouble.

Many have asked about enforceability, more specifically: How would the police know if a gun wasn’t maintained in a locked manner?

While sheriff’s deputies aren’t going to be doing random inspections of your home there are two things that could raise a flag: Word-of-mouth and social media.

Expect your child to say something about your firearms to peers or school personnel; it’s not out of the question to think young visitors will tell their parents they saw guns; and it’s too easy for pictures to be shared on Facebook showing guns improperly stored — if someone has a grudge against you it’s too inviting for them to use a social media post against you (pictures don’t lie).

So, don’t think this rule can’t and won’t affect you, even if you have a strong culture of respect for guns in your family across all the generations.

My word of advice to my fellow gun owners: Comply. Not only is it the safe thing to do, it’s now the only thing to do. Don’t tempt the fates with your children and the law.

Depending on your needs, a gun safe can cost anywhere from $120 to more than $1,000. A trigger lock costs around $20. Lock up the guns or lock the guns themselves. And, don’t forget your display guns — if you have a historic or limited-edition gun on your wall that could be fired, lock the trigger on it even though you don’t consider it a live gun that you’d ever put to use.

I tell you this without the absolute guarantee this is sustainable law.

In District of Columbia v. Heller, heard in 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that safe storage laws were unconstitutional. According to the court, there is an inherent right to self-defense which would be impeded by the implementation of storage laws (if you need a firearm you need it immediately, a criminal will never courteously wait for you to unlock it).

So, we’ll see. There’s a very real possibility the law will be struck down. But, it won’t be anytime soon.

And, given Cuomo’s hatred for the current administration in Washington, he’d be certain to pull out all the stops.

Bob Confer is a Gasport resident and vice president of Confer Plastics Inc. in North Tonawanda. Email him at bobconfer@juno.com.