MAYFIELD - New York's new gun-control law, fast-tracked through the Legislature last month at the behest of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, has drawn criticism from many corners of the state.
One local gun-control opponent is doing more than complaining about the New York SAFE Act - he's sued the governor over it.
On Jan. 16, the day after the New York Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act was put into effect, Mayfield resident Douglas Kampfer went to buy a semi-automatic rifle but was denied under the new law.
Douglas Kampfer holds his semi-automatic Remington 870 shotgun Thursday at his home in Mayfield. Kampfer has filed a civil-rights lawsuit against the governor, seeking to overturn parts of the new state firearms law. (The Leader-Herald/Bill Trojan)
On Jan. 23, Kampfer filed a civil rights complaint in U.S. District Court in Albany against Cuomo, seeking to rid the state of the new restrictions.
"The whole idea of the Second Amendment - it was brought about in 1791 by our forefathers to make sure that each able-bodied citizen was armed and ready at a moment's notice to fight for family, liberty and this country," he said. "Well, with society the way it is nowadays and with the way other countries are and with the type of weapons that they have, the people should be ready and armed at equal capacity to fight."
Under the New York SAFE Act, New York residents are prohibited from buying assault weapons defined as semi-automatic pistols, semi-automatic rifles, semi-automatic shotguns and any automatic weapons. State residents who had owned any assault-style weapon before the passing of the bill now must register them within a year and be recertified every five years.
Other parts of the bill call for mental health professionals to report when a patient might become violent, limit magazines to seven rounds and require background checks for all gun sales and transfers outside the immediate family. The penalty for bringing a firearm into a school was increased from a misdemeanor to a felony.
Kampfer said he agrees with several parts of the law, but he claims taking away the right to own what the bill defines as "assault weapons" is wrong.
"There's a fine line between what is classified as an assault weapon and what is not," he said. "I've got an 870 Remington shotgun that I use for duck hunting. But if I put a pistol grip onto it, now it becomes an assault weapon? That doesn't make sense ... Military weaponry is automatic weaponry. Semi-automatic weaponry, regardless of what features it has, is not a military weapon."
Kampfer argues that Article VI of the U.S. Constitution declares that federal laws pre-empt state laws.
"The federal government already has regulations on what kind of an assault weapon people can have. Federal law states that citizens of this country can own semi-automatic weapons," Kampfer said. "Because the federal law already states we can own semi-automatic, I believe we should be able to own semi-automatic weapons. I don't think we should be able to own automatic weapons. That's for the military. Gov. Cuomo actually violated federal law by outlawing something that federal law already guarantees."
With regard to the mental health aspect of the bill, Kampfer said he believes any potential gun owner should be evaluated by a firearms trainer.
He doesn't think Cuomo's "Mental Health Alert" proposition in the SAFE Act will do enough to prevent firearms from getting into the wrong hands. He said he doesn't want to come across as unsympathetic, either.
"I have all the sympathy in the world for the people who have suffered from mass assaults by mentally deranged people," he said. "The governor should have gone about it in a different way ... Instead of outlawing the assault weapons, he should have required that anytime somebody is going to buy a weapon, before they can buy that weapon they should go through proper training of firearms, receive a certificate of completion of that training before they can even buy the weapon.
"Before you can get a pistol, you have to go to a dealer, you have to purchase the pistol," he said. "You cannot take the pistol away from the dealer. You cannot receive that pistol until after you have received your permit. The way I believe it is, you should have to go through training first, then go and take the weapon to the sheriff's department and show that you purchased the weapon, obtain the permit, then go get the weapon."
Kampfer said he is willing to take this case to the Supreme Court, if necessary, and this initial filing could be just the first step.
Other groups, including the New York Rifle & Pistol Association, the Westchester County Firearms Owners Association and the Sportsmen's Association for Firearms Education, are collectively filing separate legal action in opposition to the new law.
John Borgolini can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.