To combat the epidemic of gun violence in America, the New York State Bar Association (NYSBA) has adopted a comprehensive report with recommendations for legislative reforms proposed by the Task Force on Mass Shootings and Assault Weapons.
The measure was approved by NYSBA’s House of Delegates, the association’s governing body, at its Nov. 7 virtual meeting. Recommendations call for a nationwide adoption of red flag laws and bans on the possession, sale and manufacture of assault-style weapons, as well as an extension of the time period for background checks to at least 30 days.
A red flag law, like the one enacted in New York in 2019, allows a judge to issue an extreme risk protection order against someone found to be at risk of harming themselves or others. The order would prohibit that person from purchasing, possessing or attempting to purchase or possess a firearm, rifle or shotgun.
“The recommendations made by this task force should serve as a resource to legislators and policymakers as they seek to address the epidemic of gun violence in America,” said NYSBA President Scott M. Karson. “New York State has been a leader in enacting legislation to address gun violence, and as lawyers, we have a special role to play in reducing the number of senseless killings in our country.”
The federal assault weapons ban that was in effect from 1994 through 2004 included a prohibition on the manufacture of certain semi-automatic weapons with military-style features and according to a 2019 study from the Rockefeller Institute of Government, assault-style rifles were used less frequently in mass shootings during the time. Legislation was introduced in January of 2019 in the U.S. Senate to reinstitute the assault weapons ban but no action has been taken. The task force urges passage of this bill.
Defining assault weapons as “high-powered semi-automatic firearms that are capable of autoloading a new cartridge into the chamber after the gun is discharged,” the task force notes that these assault weapons were used in several well-known mass shootings like Sandy Hook, Pulse Nightclub, Las Vegas Country Music Festival and Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
Current federal law states that only people who buy a gun from a federally licensed gun dealer are required to pass a background check and if it has not been completed within three business days, the sale may go through without waiting for the results.
A fatal and tragic example of why the time period should be lengthened came in 2015, according to the task force, when a mass shooting took place at the Emanuel AME Church in South Carolina. The shooter had a disqualifying arrest on his record that would have prevented him from purchasing the gun he used to commit the horrific act. However, the background check was not completed within the three-day period and the sale went through.
Using New York as an example for the rest of the country, the task force recommends extending the time in which a background check must be completed before a final sale to at least 30 days.
The recommendations of the task force also include:
- Banning large-capacity magazines that hold more than ten rounds of ammunition
- Banning bump stocks and other devices that effectively enable semi-automatic firearms to be fired in fully automatic mode
- Banning firearms manufactured without a license and without a serial number
- Enacting universal background checks for all gun sales
- Requiring gun owners to obtain a license to purchase and possess all types of firearms
- Expanding the category of individuals who are prohibited from purchasing or possessing firearms
- Closing reporting loopholes to ensure all disqualifying data is reported to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System
- Imposing penalties for failure to notify the authorities of stolen or lost guns
- Imposing penalties for unlocked/unsecured guns in certain circumstances
- Affirming that “intermediate scrutiny” and “preponderance of the evidence” are the appropriate legal standards to apply in determining Second Amendment challenges to gun legislation, except in the narrow class of cases where it is shown that the legislation “substantially” or “severely” burdens a core Second Amendment right
- Educating the public regarding gun legislation and the right to seek protection in situations of domestic violence
- Promoting and funding research and data collection regarding gun violence, including mass shootings
Appointed in 2018 by then-NYSBA President Michael Miller, the task force was asked to update the 2015 NYSBA report, Understanding the Second Amendment – Gun Regulation in America Today and Yesterday with a more specific focus on the role that mass shootings and assault weapons play in the scourge of gun violence in the United States.
“While mass shootings account for a small portion of gun-related deaths, there are still too many of them and they cause too much death, injury and grief and traumatize communities across the United States,” said David M. Schraver, co-chair of the task force, a past NYSBA president and of counsel to Nixon Peabody in Rochester. “It is time, indeed it is past time, to take sensible action to try to reduce their frequency and the damage they cause. We hope these recommendations adopted by the New York State Bar Association will lead to meaningful federal, state and local government action to address the continuing tragedy of mass shootings and gun violence in our country.”
The task force included members identifying as avid hunters, target shooters and gun owners as well as those who do not own or use firearms. Geographically, members reside in rural and upstate communities and in New York City and the surrounding suburbs.
“The Supreme Court has made it clear that the important Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms, like other constitutional rights, is subject to reasonable limitations and the recommendations set forth in this report achieve a proper and necessary balance between rights protected by the Second Amendment and the fundamental interests of public safety,” said Margaret J. Finerty, a partner at Getnick & Getnick in New York City and co-chair of the task force. “Implementing these recommendations on the state and federal levels will go a long way towards avoiding the tragedies of mass shootings and other types of gun violence that have tormented the nation for decades. We can reduce the epidemic of mass shootings, and reasonable steps to do so are long overdue.”
About the New York State Bar Association
The New York State Bar Association is the largest voluntary state bar association in the nation. Since 1876, the Association has helped shape the development of law, educated and informed the legal profession and the public, and championed the rights of New Yorkers through advocacy and guidance in our communities.
Contact: Brendan Kennedy