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County sheriffs critical of state gun law reforms

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CANTON — The New York State Sheriffs Association has concluded the state’s new gun law will largely affect legal gun owners while not going far enough to prosecute criminals.

The association, in a formal position adopted at a meeting in January, said that although sheriffs generally support the new law, there are some parts that “need clarification, and some that we think should be reconsidered and modified to meet the concerns of the law enforcement community and the public at large.”

St. Lawrence County Sheriff Kevin M. Wells said the law isn’t going to make his job more difficult, but it will threaten the livelihood of gun dealers in the county.

In particular, Mr. Wells said, a provision in the law requiring all ammunition sales be subject to a background check will be overly burdensome on small businesses.

“The Walmarts of the world can afford that,” Mr. Wells said. “It’s going to really hurt small businesses. They don’t have the employees to do those background checks.”

He said he doesn’t think background checks will do anything besides gum up the process of purchasing ammunition for law-abiding citizens.

“The only ones it’s going to affect are the honest gun owners,” he said.

The law also caps the size of magazines at seven rounds and includes a much stricter definition of what constitutes an assault rifle. Under the law, any rifle with a pistol grip, box magazine and one military-style feature is classified an assault rifle and must be registered with state police by April 2014.

“Nobody’s guns are getting taken away from them, but they have to register them,” Mr. Wells said.

He said these provisions won’t do anything to combat gun violence because only law-abiding citizens will follow the rules.

The Sheriffs Association said, “We are convinced that only law-abiding gun owners will be affected by these new provisions, while criminals will still have and use whatever weapons they want.”

Mr. Wells said, “It’s not about deer hunting; it’s not about sporting. It’s about Second Amendment rights.”

However, the state Sheriffs Association and Mr. Wells support increased penalties for people who use guns to commit crimes, including the provision that makes the killing of a first responder first-degree murder.

But Mr. Wells said he believes that aspect of the law does not go far enough. He said there should be no plea-bargain option for people who murder first responders.

Mr. Wells also said the law would not have prevented the theft of 36 guns in 2012 in St. Lawrence County.

The Sheriffs’ Association in its position report said it plans to work with state lawmakers and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to change parts of the law it feels are inadequate or harmful.

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