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Cuomo, State Senate agree to block parts of SAFE Act

ALBANY – Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has agreed to loosen restrictions on a much-touted gun control law enacted in the aftermath of the 2012 Sandy Hook elementary school shootings in Connecticut.

The Cuomo administration’s director of state operations, James Malatras, has signed a memorandum of understanding with State Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan to undo certain aspects of the New York SAFE Act gun control law, though the major changes affect provisions of the law that were never implemented and that pertain to ammunition sales.

It was telling that the changes were not announced by the Cuomo administration. Rather, word came late Friday afternoon – in keeping with Albany’s tradition of dumping potentially controversial news late on a Friday during the summer. And it came via press releases from at least two upstate State Senate Republicans, including State Sen. Catharine Young of Olean.

Young and State Sen. William Seward, who issued separate press releases within five minutes of each other, both supported Long Island’s Flanagan over SAFE Act opponent and upstate Republican State Sen. John DeFrancisco in a leadership battle earlier this year. Conservatives and gun rights advocates have vowed political retribution against a handful of upstate lawmakers who supported Flanagan.

Curiously, the memorandum of agreement does not contain the governor’s name, nor that of Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie. But State Senate Republicans said the effect of the memorandum signed by the State Senate and the Cuomo administration effectively blocks implementation of a couple of SAFE Act provisions.

Never implemented since the SAFE Act’s passage in early 2013, a State Police database of all ammunition sales in New York will not go forward in the future, according to Senate Republicans.

The arrangement, likewise, blocks implementation of a background check on ammunition purchases that also was never activated since the law’s passage.

The Cuomo administration said that nothing about the SAFE Act is changing other than a recognition that an ammunition database can’t begin until the technology is developed to create it.

State Sen. Patrick Gallivan, an Elma Republican, in June told The Buffalo News about the MOU route to keep the ammunition database from being activated.

The arrangement announced Friday was all part of the linkage of various unrelated policy items, such as extension of New York City rent control laws, that were in play at the end of session between Cuomo, Flanagan and Heastie.

“It’s a good beginning,” said Tom King, president of the New York State Rifle and Pistol Association, which is the state chapter of the National Rifle Association.

King said his group is still seeking repeal of the SAFE Act, and the group has a lawsuit pending in the courts to overturn the law.

A final part of the MOU announced Friday ends a ban on Internet sales of ammunition. King said he wasn’t sure of the practical effect of that measure, since ammunition companies have already been limiting sales directly to gun dealers.

A spokesman for State Senate Democrats blasted the Friday afternoon gun-law deal as “outrageous.” In a reference to claims made by Cuomo since the SAFE Act was passed, spokesman Mike Murphy added, “I guess we don’t have the toughest gun laws in the nation anymore.”

Murphy suggested that if Cuomo can make side deals solely with State Senate Republicans on a measure already passed into law, he can make agreements on measures sought by his fellow Democrats, including minimum wage and paid family leave proposals.

The Cuomo administration disputed one characterization of the deal announced by Seward, the Otsego County Senate Republican, who said that GOP lawmakers got the governor to drop a ban on internet ammunition sales.

Cuomo officials say that ban is still in effect.

email: tprecious@buffnews.com