As registration deadline approaches, intrusion of privacy is rallying cry

David Andreatta

Staff writer

Jon Campbell

Albany Bureau

Gun owners have a saying that “registration leads to confiscation,” meaning let­ting Uncle Sam know who owns a gun is the top of a slippery slope that leads to having it taken away.

That refrain has reached a crescendo in New York, with an impending Tuesday deadline for owners of assault weapons to register those firearms with the state.

“We hear that a lot around here,” said Mark Vanderstouw, a sales clerk at Bei­kirch’s, a firearms dealer in East Rochester. “A lot of people feel the next step is a knock on the door.”

The deadline is a provision of the state’s controversial gun control law, the S.A.F.E. Act, which reclassified many legally purchased semiautomatic rifles as “assault weapons” and enabled the state to keep tabs on their whereabouts through registration.

As the deadline nears, firearms sellers say talk of civil disobedience is growing among owners of newly designated assault weapons who are threatening to ignore the registration provision altogether. Others are paying upward of $150 to alter their guns to bring them into compliance with the law and avoid registration.

“I’m not registering it,” said Rochester resident Edward Bunt of his 10/22 Ruger rifle during a visit to Beikirch’s for ammunition. “It’s none of their G–damned business what I own. I don’t want the government knowing what gun I own.”

The penalties for ignoring the deadline range from a misdemeanor to a felony. The law allows for either charge, and the State Police say it will be up to prosecutors to decide which to apply.

Owners of assault weapons found to have inadvertently missed the deadline would be given 30 days to register their firearm.

Monroe County District Attorney Sandra Doorley said if a case were brought to her office she would give the gun owner an opportunity to register.

Opposition is strong

Denouncing the S.A.F.E. Act — and the politicians who pushed it through the state Legislature in the wake of the elementary school shooting in Newtown, Conn. — has been a pastime of gun rights advocates since the law was enacted in January 2013.

Over the last year, tens of thousands of them have signed petitions, rallied in Albany and called for the impeachment of Gov. Andrew Cuomo. For many of them, the registration provision is their best chance to channel their frustration into action.

“This deadline is a meaningful deadline for people because nobody wants to be on Cuomo’s list,” said Fred Calcagno, who owns American Sportsman in East Rochester and estimated three-quarters of assault rifle owners would buck the registration requirement. “Registration becomes confiscation.”

Cuomo, in an interview with the Democrat and Chronicle last week, said fearing confiscation is unfounded and that, at this point, there is no evidence that gun owners aren’t complying with the law.

“You have been registering your handgun for decades and decades and decades,” Cuomo said. “When has government ever come and knocked on your door and said, ‘I know that you have five handguns because they’re registered’? It hasn’t happened.

“So I never understood the fear in the first place because it hasn’t happened.”

It is not known how many assault weapons are in New York, and the state has refused to say how many have been registered. The State Police, which maintains the database, says the information is protected by law. “A provision of the S.A.F.E. Act pertaining to confidentiality prevents the State Police from releasing information related to the registration of assault weapons including the number of assault weapons registered,” State Police spokeswoman Darcy Wells said.

The state Committee on Open Government, however, has argued the number of registrants should be public.

Tom King, president of the New York Rifle and Pistol Association, estimated there are upward of 1 million firearms in the state classified as assault weapons. He said his organization is not advising members on whether to register.

“When someone asks me, I say, ‘It’s a personal choice and I don’t want to know,’ ” King said.

Leah Gunn Barrett, executive director of New Yorkers Against Gun Violence, said gun owners should be expected to follow the law.

“They can make all the noise they want, but the law is the law,” Barrett said.

Pete Tonery, a Hamlin resident who has followed the gun control debate closely, called refusing to register assault rifles “the height of hypocrisy.”

“Their common cry is that regulation infringes on the rights of law-abiding citizens,” Tonery said. “What they now advocate removes them from that category. After they commit a felony, they will be criminals.”


Rifle owners may permanently modify their weapons to avoid registration, and many people have done so. Removing parts of a semiautomatic rifle, like the muzzle break and bayonet lug, and altering its stock and grip can make a gun compliant with the law.

“We don’t encourage people to disobey the law, but we are hearing very much from people that they are not going to register at all or they are going to make modifications so it doesn’t qualify as an assault weapon,” said Stephen Allstadt, president of the Shooters Committee on Political Education, a gun-rights advocacy group.

At least two gun manufacturers are producing semiautomatic rifles specifically made to comply with the S.A.F.E. Act.

The AR-15 and the AR-10 by Missouribased Black Rain Ordnance would eliminate

several features that were made illegal under the law, including pistol grips and threaded barrels.

Just Right Carbines, based in Canandaigua, now makes a carbine rifle whose grip was modified to comply with the law here and in California, which has similar stock and grip restrictions.

“Everybody is doing basically the same thing, which is basically adopting a stock that was originally produced for the California market and basically adopting that stock for the New York market,” said Just Right Carbines general manager Anthony Testa.

More changes attempted

Just as manufacturers scramble to adjust to the law, efforts to further change it are underway in Albany.

Some Democrats in the Assembly are pushing bills to tighten gun-storage requirements and require microstamping — in which a unique code is printed on shell casings when a round is fired. Neither has gained traction in the Senate, which is controlled by a coalition of Republicans and breakaway Democrats.

Last week, the Assembly Codes Committee voted to “hold” a Republicanbacked bill that would repeal the S.A.F.E. Act, which effectively ended its chances of passing this year.

One aspect of the law that has rankled assault rifle owners is its restrictions on sales and transfers. The firearms can only be sold or transferred to police, a gun dealer or someone out of state, essentially ending a time-honored tradition of passing down guns to a child or grandchild residing in New York.

Allan Rice, a manager at Beikirch’s, had five assault rifles that the law requires be registered. He converted one to avoid registration and shipped the other four to his son in Florida, where gun laws are far less restrictive.

“Registration leads to confiscation, any way you look at it,” Rice said.


Includes reporting by staff writer Brian Sharp and Albany Bureau chief Joseph Spector.


On the left, Fred Calcagno, owner of American Sportsman in East Rochester, holds a rifle that qualifies as an assault weapon under the New York S.A.F.E. Act. On the right is a gun that is compliant with the law. Tuesday is the deadline for New Yorkers to register assault weapons with the state and area gun owners are mixed in their approach. Many say they simply won’t register, others have modified their guns to comply and others say they’ll obey the law. DAVID ANDREATTA/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

Black Rain Ordnance is making AR-15 and AR-10 rifles that are compliant with New York law. PROVIDED BY BLACK RAIN ORDNANCE

“I never understood the fear in the fir st place, because it hasn’t happened.”


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