A field guide for troopers released last month by the New York State Police answers looming questions about the NY SAFE Act.
The 20-page document sheds light, for instance, on how police should enforce the rule that reduces the number of bullets allowed in a magazine from 10 to seven in most cases. It says troopers must have probable cause to suspect criminal activity before checking whether a magazine contains more than the legal number of rounds. Penalties for violations are outlined by the guide, which can be viewed at http://wdt.me/ENeqZq.
The Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act, approved quickly by the state Legislature in January, resulted in widespread confusion among sportsmen's associations and business owners. Gun clubs that hold shooting competitions, such as the Sackets Harbor Vigilantes, were puzzled over whether magazine restrictions would affect them and weren't satisfied with explanations from the governor's office. Gun sellers worried about how lengthy background checks and toughened restrictions might deter sales; panicked hunters and sportsmen stocked up on ammunition and bought rifles the week after the legislation was passed.
Police officers also have been confused about facets of the law, the guide notes: "As with many large legislative initiatives, the SAFE Act has raised questions from members of the field relating to the scope of the Act and its effect on those police officers who will have the responsibility to enforce the various provisions."
A section of the guide details how police should enforce the seven-bullet rule. Though a person may possess magazines with a capacity of 10 rounds, the law prohibits having more than seven rounds loaded in any particular magazine. State penal law says it is unlawful for a person to "knowingly possess" a magazine with more than seven rounds.
Exemptions are authorized for magazines containing eight, nine or 10 rounds at firing ranges for collegiate, Olympic or other target-shooting competitions approved by the NRA, and organized matches sanctioned by the International Handgun Metallic Silhouette Association. Active-duty police offers also are exempt.
The guide informs troopers they must have probable cause of criminal activity to inspect magazines: "Absent some indication of criminal activity, there is no right to inspect the contents of a magazine to ensure that it meets the requirements under the SAFE Act. ... The mere existence of a magazine, which may or may not be legal, does not provide probable cause to believe that any law is being broken."
Troopers may inspect magazines only if owners are unable to provide a permit for a weapon, according to the guide. If a permit is not produced by an owner who is questioned, police are authorized to seize a firearm and inspect its contents to account for the number of rounds, the manual states.
The law also expanded requirements for background checks for private sales of firearms, which previously were limited to commercial weapon sales. Before any private sales are made, a background check on the purchaser must be conducted by a certified dealer; dealers may charge up to $10 for facilitating such transactions.
Exemptions to background checks are allowed under the law for those who meet the criteria of immediate family members: spouses, domestic partners, children and stepchildren. Police officers are not exempt from background check requirements.
Starting Jan. 1, the law requires all pistol permits to be renewed every five years. That free program will start in early 2014 on a staggered basis. Those who fail to recertify permits will have licenses revoked and will be required to surrender firearms.
"In such a case, the person is required to surrender his or her license to the appropriate licensing official and any and all firearms, rifles or shotguns owned or possessed by the person must be surrendered to a law enforcement agency," the guide states.
The guide includes a summary of new provisions and amendments to criminal laws related to the SAFE Act, along with their effective dates. Most aspects of the law already have taken effect.
McClatchy-Tribune News Service