Kavanagh Details Democrats' Push for Tougher NY State Gun Laws

State Sen. Brian Kavanagh, speaking to members of Downtown political clubs, said he has been working on the gun violence issue "almost from the first day I've been in the legislature." Photo: Carl Glassman/Tribeca Trib

Mar. 20, 2018

Amid the current groundswell of student activism against gun violence, New York State Democrats are again pushing for more gun control legislation in Albany.

That was the message that state Sen. Brian Kavanagh, long a leading proponent of tougher New York gun control laws, delivered at a public meeting on Sunday organized by the Downtown Independent Democrats.

Kavanagh, who after 11 years in the state Assembly took over the Senate seat vacated last year by Daniel Squadron, said he has been working on the issue “since almost the first day I went to the legislature.” He is the chair of American State Legislators for Gun Violence Prevention and the affiliated New York Legislators for Gun Violence Prevention.

“I can tell you,” the senator added, “that I don’t recall a moment when there was more grassroots activism and more likelihood that we’re going to move forward.”

While New York has some of the strictest gun laws in the country, Democrats are making additional regulations part of their state budget negotiations, set to end on April 1. “The budget theoretically is about dollars and cents…but it has become commonplace in Albany to take things that you think are really important and put them in the budget,” Kavanagh said.

Extreme risk protection orders, or so-called red flag laws, are among those safeguards.

When a person is “demonstrably dangerous to themselves or others,” Kavanagh explained, an extreme risk protection order allows family, household members, law enforcement and district attorneys to petition the court for an order to take away the person’s guns. Because Constitutional rights are at stake, Kavenagh noted, that person would be immediately entitled to appeal the ruling. While Federal law prevents some people, such as convicted felons and those with certain kinds of mental health histories, from buying or owning firearms, it doesn’t prevent the type of mass shooting that took the lives of 17 people in Parkland, Fla., Kavanagh said.

Connecticut was the first state to put a law like this on the books. Citing a Duke University study, Kavanagh said gun-related deaths, particularly suicides, have been drastically reduced in that state.

Also up for consideration is a bill that would ban bump stocks, which effectively turns a semi-automatic rifle into an automatic one, like that used to kill 59 people in Las Vegas last October. In addition, there are proposals to increase the number of days for a background check from three to 10, and to prohibit people convicted of misdemeanor hate crimes from purchasing a gun.

“We’re on the cusp of doing this but it is no small matter to push forward a broad package,” he said, noting that Republicans are still in control of the Senate’s budget process.

Late last month, Republicans blocked an effort to bring a vote on the gun control bills. Republicans may be proposing other school safety measures that could include additional state aid for security cameras and armed officers in any school that requests one, the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle reported on March 4.

Kavanagh suggested to the audience, which included members of the Village Independent Democrats, and the Village Reform Democratic Club, that calls and emails about the bills to the governor’s office and “legislators of any stripe” would be helpful.

There was a perception, Kavanagh explained, that Congress was finally going to act on background checks and assault rifle restrictions after the slaughter of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., in December, 2012.

“It didn’t happen,” he said. However, at the state level, things were happening.

Albany passed a bill called the New York Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act, known as the SAFE Act, signed into law by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in early 2013.

“We continue to see reductions in gun violence year on year in New York state,” Kavanagh said.

Public Advocate Letitia James also spoke at the Sunday event, citing actions she is taking at the city level. As a board member of the city’s largest public pension fund, the New York City Employees’ Retirement System, James said she pushed for the fund to divest from gun retailers. She said she also has urged financial institutions, such as TD Bank, to no longer provide loans to gun manufacturers.

“We’ve got to, basically, hit them where it hurts and we really need to remove the spigot of financial funds,” she said.

James said her office also has filed a complaint with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

“We realized that a lot of these [gun] companies failed to disclose the risks associated with their product,” she said, noting that the federal agency has agreed to review the complaint.