As state lawmakers put the finishing touches on stricter gun laws in the wake of last month’s Connecticut school shooting, county residents were working to get their hands on a dwindling stock of guns and ammunition.
The county sheriff’s office, which processes licensing applications within the county, has seen a “significant” increase in pistol applications over this past year, and yesterday in particular, said sheriff spokesman Michael Sharkey. Staffers received 20 applications on Tuesday alone, a number that just a few years ago would have been more typical of an entire month, he said.
“People are trying to stay ahead of the curve,” said Mr. Sharkey. “It seems the public got concerned over possible limitations to access.”
At the same time, ammunition is flying off shelves, said Matthew Daly, a Wal-Mart assistant manager who frequently works the firearms counter at the Route 58 store in Riverhead.
The store only has about 1 or 2 percent of its regular amount of ammunition left in stock, Mr. Daly said.
Gun owners also appear to be swelling numbers at the range, at least according to chatter on a Long Island Firearms’ group forum, where members have been posting about how busy the Calverton Shooting Range on Nugent Drive in Calverton was on a recent Sunday.
“Went to Calverton today and was surprised to see that the line of cars to get in was to and down the highway” one poster wrote. “Was there something special going on?”
“Lots of people buying guns right now and lots wanting to use them,” another person responded. “I think it’s going to be busy for a while.”
The 6,000-member group dedicates itself “to the preservation of our Second Amendment rights on a local level” according to its website.
On Tuesday night — about a month after the Dec. 14 shootings in Newtown, Conn. — Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the NYS Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act (NY SAFE Act), the first gun control bill adopted nationwide since the massacre, giving New York “the toughest protections against gun violence in the nation,” according to a press release from the governor’s office.
The new law requires mental health professionals to report to local mental health officials if they believe a patient may engage in conduct that would cause serious harm to themselves or others. If that patient was to own a gun, the license will be suspended and law enforcement would be authorized to remove the person’s firearm, according to the release.
The law also requires pistol permit holders to be re-certified at least every five years, a practice already done in Suffolk County.
“I think it’s good for control purposes,” said Mr. Sharkey. “You need to be able to make sure there have been no significant life changes that would impact a person’s gun use.”
Some local residents are not in support of the state’s new law.
Mr. Daly said he believes gun laws have violated New Yorkers’ constitutional rights.
“I am just disturbed,” he said. “I think we are being railroaded by our government.”
Gun education is the best way to control gun violence, he added.
“Education is everything with guns. Let someone use and feel a gun, and they will respect it,” he said.
The law also restricts gun magazines to holding seven rounds, which falls below the national average of 10, according to the release.
Howard Martin, a retired New York City police officer who lives in Manorville, said he’s concerned about the magazine-limits in the law, specifically that there is no exemption included for police officers.
“Criminals don’t follow the law,” he said. “They will put as many rounds in their magazine as they want to, and that puts law enforcement officers at a disadvantage.”
While President Barack Obama and federal lawmakers also work to tighten gun control in the United States, Mr. Martin said he has been around guns all his life, and that he finds the entire situation disheartening.
“Behind every tree, every window, every door there is a gun. It is the one thing that keeps America free,” Mr. Martin said.
“Guns are not bad, the problem is the criminals,” said Lucas Bennett, 25, of Riverhead, who was also found shopping at the Riverhead Wal-Mart. “What is being done is penalizing the law-abiding citizens for protecting themselves.”