How effective is New York’s ban on assault weapons?

The Sandy Hook shooting last Friday has reawakened calls for assault weapons bans nationwide. Since New York is one of a handful of states to prohibit the deadly guns, it’s worth asking how well the law has worked.

The law, it turns out, is pocked with loopholes.

In 2000, New York State adopted bans on assault weapons and large-capacity ammunition magazines modeled after a federal law in place at the time. That federal ban, passed by Congress in 1994, expired in 2004.

Like the short-lived national policy it’s modeled after, New York’s law contains some troubling loopholes. New York Penal Code prohibits “manufacturing, transporting, disposing of or possessing” an assault weapon or ammunition magazines carrying more than 10 rounds of ammunition. Those rules, however, don’t apply to weapons and magazines manufactured before September 14, 1994 — the date the federal law went into effect.

“Which is why we have a problem,” explained Jackie Hilly, executive director of New Yorkers Against Gun Violence. There’s no way to determine when the magazines were manufactured, she said — those made before 1994 and those made after can look exactly the same. In guns stores, she said, they’re often just marked with pieces of paper.

Determining what constitutes an assault weapon has also proved tricky. Under New York State law, they are defined as semi-automatic shotguns, as well as rifles and pistols that can accept detachable ammunition magazines and include at least two defining characteristics specified in the law, like folding or telescoping stocks, bayonet mounts and grenade launchers.

New York State Sen. Daniel Squadron introduced a bill this year that would broaden the definition of assault weapons to include more military-style guns, and adding to the list of banned items conversion kits that have the capability of transforming a legal firearm into an illegal assault weapon.

Though Squadron’s bill pushes for tougher laws, its corresponding memo nevertheless asserts that “New York State’s assault ban weapon works. It has made the streets of New York State safer.”

According to the national Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, New York has the fifth-lowest number of gun deaths per capita in the states. The center evaluated gun laws across the country and ranked New York as having the sixth strongest gun laws, following California, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Hawaii.

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