Assembly Member Rebecca Seawright: When it Comes to Gun Violence, We Need More Than Thoughts and Prayers

Assemblymember Rebecca Seawright (D-76th District) announced that she helped pass legislation to prevent and reduce gun violence in New York. The legislative package includes measures to ban bump stocks, prevent individuals determined to be a danger to themselves or others from possessing or purchasing firearms and establish a longer waiting period before delivery of a purchased firearm to a person who has not cleared a background check.

“Again and again, senseless gun violence takes innocent lives, leaving agony, heartbreak and indescribable grief in its wake,” Seawright said. “But as the brave survivors from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, have made clear, there can be no excuse for inaction. These tragedies – whether it’s the headline-grabbing mass shootings or the day-to-day gun violence that afflicts some of our neighborhoods – don’t have to be routine. Kids don’t have to die.”

One piece of legislation passed by the Assembly prohibits the possession, manufacture, transport, shipment and sale of devices that accelerate the firing rate of firearms so they operate in the same manner as machine guns, including trigger cranks and bump-fire devices (A.9958). Under current New York State law, attaching such a device to a firearm is illegal because once attached, the weapon is considered a machine gun. However, there is no restriction on the sale or possession of bump stocks or other similar devices that are not attached to a firearm.

This type of firearm modification enabled a single gunman to kill 58 people and injure over 500 in the October 2017 Las Vegas mass shooting. Using bump stocks on two separate weapons, the individual responsible was able to fire more than 1,100 rounds in approximately 10 minutes. This horrific level of violence shows why gun modifications of this kind should never be in the hands of civilians, noted Assemblymember Seawright.

Legislation was also passed to establish the ability of a court to issue a restraining order, known as an “extreme risk protection order,” prohibiting a person who exhibits serious signs of being a threat to themselves or others from purchasing or possessing a firearm for up to one year (A.8976-B). The petitioner, who could be a family member or law enforcement officer, would be required to file a sworn application describing the circumstances and justification for the request. Following a hearing, the court could grant the order if there is a finding that there is reasonable cause to believe the individual in question is likely to engage in conduct that would result in serious harm to him or herself or others. In emergency circumstances, the court would also be authorized to issue a temporary order restricting access to firearms pending a final hearing.

Under the existing appeals procedure provided in the civil practice laws and rules, individuals would be permitted to appeal a court’s decision to issue an extreme risk protection order. They would also be entitled to submit a request, at any time while the order is in place, for a hearing to discontinue the order based on a change of circumstances and a showing that he or she no longer poses a danger.

“This legislation in no way hinders the rights of law-abiding citizens. What it does is help prevent suicides, fatal domestic violence incidents and possibly even mass shootings,” said Seawright. “Simply put, an extreme risk protection order could prove the difference between life and death.”

Currently, five states – California, Connecticut, Indiana, Oregon and Washington – have these so-called red flag laws in place, Seawright noted.

To further help keep guns out of the wrong hands, the legislative package includes the Domestic Violence Escalation Prevention Act, which would prevent domestic violence abusers from having access to weapons by prohibiting an individual who has been convicted of a domestic violence crime from purchasing or possessing a firearm (A.5025).

More than half of all female homicide victims in this country are killed by an intimate partner, with nearly three women murdered every day. Those aren’t just startling statistics, they are mothers, sisters and friends whose lives are brutally taken, and one of the first steps in preventing these tragedies is making sure their abusers don’t have a gun, stated Seawright.

Further, legislation was passed to establish a waiting period of 10 days – instead of the current three days – before a gun may be delivered to a purchaser whose background check is not completed (A.2406). Under current federal law, gun dealers must conduct a background check through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) before selling a firearm. The NICS system responds with one of three messages – “proceed,” “denied” or “delayed.” The dealer must deny the sale if the NICS background check determines the buyer is a prohibited purchaser and responds with a “denied” message. However, if the response is “delayed,” the dealer may nonetheless complete the sale after three business days. In these cases, the FBI continues to investigate whether the person is an eligible purchaser beyond the three-day period even though the person has likely already been sold the firearm.

According to the FBI, more than 15,000 gun sales went forward between 2010 and 2014 to individuals who were prohibited from purchasing or possessing a firearm because the determination whether to deny or proceed could not be made within three business days. The additional waiting period provided for in the legislation would help ensure that only those who have cleared a background check are able to purchase firearms, noted Seawright.

Another measure passed by the Assembly requires out-of-state citizens who also have homes in New York to waive the confidentiality of their home state mental illness records when applying for a firearm here (A.9978). Closing this dangerous loophole will help law enforcement better protect our communities, Seawright stated.

“We need to do more to combat gun violence, and we need to do it now,” said Seawright. “No parent should have to bury their child because someone who shouldn’t have had a gun got one. Let’s stand together and say enough is enough.”