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Bill passed to confiscate guns for domestic-violence misdemeanors

New York gun owners convicted of misdemeanors in domestic-violence cases would have their firearms taken away under a bill lawmakers approved along with the new state budget.

Convicted felons already are barred from gun ownership in the state. The new bill, promoted by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, would strip guns from people convicted of misdemeanor counts of assault, menacing, criminal contempt, unlawful imprisonment, aggravated harassment and similar charges if the victims are members of their family or their household.

The bill, which was swiftly approved Friday along with general budget legislation, also clarifies that long guns, as well as handguns, are to be surrendered for felony convictions, serious criminal convictions and matters involving orders of protection, along with now misdemeanor domestic-violence convictions. The bill's authors said existing laws had left unclear when rifles and shotguns were to be taken.

Gun owners will have the right to a hearing to challenge orders to surrender weapons, though guns can be confiscated taken and held before such hearings occur.

Early this year, Cuomo talked up the need for such a law, pointing out that the shooters in many of the deadliest mass shootings in recent U.S. history had an existing record of violence against women, threatening violence against women, or harassing or disparaging women. In 2016, firearms were used in 25 domestic homicides in New York, according to the governor's office.

"Domestic violence is one of the main indicators of the potential for deadly use of weapons," said Paul McQuillen of Hamburg, upstate coordinator for the group New Yorkers Against Gun Violence. "To be honest, I don't think anybody is a supporter of allowing an individual who is capable of misdemeanor domestic violence to have access to a weapon. Anybody who is capable of engaging in domestic violence is certainly capable of escalating that."

However, doubts were raised Saturday about the usefulness of the new legislation. In practice, law enforcement officers already have discretion to take guns from people accused in domestic violence cases, especially after a judge issues an order of protection, said Harold "Budd" Schroeder, chairman emeritus of the Shooters Committee on Political Education, a longtime critic of Cuomo for his gun-control measures.

"The procedure is already there to take away a weapon from any person the police deem to be a problem," Schroeder said. "But Cuomo is looking for any ways to deny people their Second Amendment rights."

Further, the federal "Lautenberg amendment" – named in 1996 for U.S. Senate sponsor Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J. – already makes it illegal for people convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence to own guns, Schroeder said.

But even supporters of the Lautenberg amendment say it can be problematic because of gaps in the way states and other authorities report those convictions for background checks.

One who slipped through was Devin Kelley, the shooter who in November massacred parishioners in a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas. Kelley  obtained an AR-15 rifle even though he had been convicted while in the Air Force of beating his wife and fracturing his stepson's skull. His conviction had not been entered into the National Criminal Information Center database. The Air Force has since acknowledged its error.

“The Lautenberg Amendment was bare bones,” Kim Gandy, the chief executive of the National Network to End Domestic Violence, told The New York Times in November. “There are a lot of gaps in the instant criminal background check system; the data is only as good as what goes into it. "

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