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New law tightens mental health checks of part-time residents seeking gun licenses

ALBANY – A bill tightening mental health background checks for part-time residents of the state who seek a firearms license was signed into law Tuesday, nine months after the state Legislature adopted the measure.

The new law, which takes effect in 60 days, closes what its advocates say was a loophole over the background check process involving firearm license applicants who do not reside full-time in New York State.

“We don’t need any more empty gestures. What we need are more tools to keep weapons out of the hands of those who shouldn’t have them, and by closing this loophole we will ensure that all those applying for a firearm license in New York are subject to the same rigorous background check process," said Sen. Anna Kaplan, a Long Island Democrat who sponsored the bill in the Senate.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo signed the bill into law on Tuesday afternoon. Along with a half-dozen other gun-related measures, it was passed by both houses in January.

A 2013 state Court of Appeals decision permits people to get a firearm license in the county in which they reside, even if it is only a part-time residence. The law’s advocates said mental health background checks of part-time residents have sometimes been stymied by confidentiality laws in the states that the gun license applicants call their permanent home.

“It is unlikely that New York residents who are domiciled elsewhere, many of whom only have vacation homes and summer camps in New York, will have a mental illness record in New York. Thus, there is little chance under current law for a complete investigation of the mental illness history of a foreign domiciliary,’’ the bill’s sponsors said in a legislative memo in support of the law.

The new law requires a mental health background check of the state where the gun license applicant permanently resides; if needed by that state, a document waiving confidentiality protections must be signed by the applicant seeking a New York license.

In signing the bill, Cuomo said existing rules can keep information secret about a dangerous mental health background concerning a part-time resident who is seeking a firearms license in New York. That administration added that the National Instant Criminal Background Check System only flags mental health background concerns about an applicant who has been involuntarily committed.

Laws enacted earlier this year include additional background waiting periods for certain gun buyers, a ban on bump stocks and the addition of New York to other states that have OK'd “red flag” provisions to ban the possession of guns by individuals deemed by a court to be a danger to themselves or others.

Cuomo on Tuesday also signed into law a provision to make it easier for local law enforcement officers to obtain real-time information about handgun license-holders who may live, for instance, in a residence to which they’ve been called after-hours for a domestic violence incident.

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