Growing backlash over new gun laws in upstate New York

(AP Photo/Mel Evans)

While I’d love to be able to confidently predict that Gov. Kathy Hochul is going to down to defeat on Election Day thanks to her defiance of the Supreme Court and her refusal to recognize the Second Amendment rights of New Yorkers, the odds are that the anti-gun governor will be victorious in her campaign for a full term as the state’s chief executive. At the moment, Hochul is leading Republican Lee Zeldin by double digits in most recent polls, and given the fact that the state hasn’t elected a Republican governor in 20 years, even a red wave election might not be enough to put Zeldin over the top.

Still, gun control is emerging as a potent issue in this year’s elections, particularly in upstate New York, where the new gun laws that Hochul and her anti-gun allies rammed through the legislature with no public input earlier this year are being met with heated criticism and passionate dissent from gun owners, law enforcement, and local officials. A number of counties have already passed resolutions condemning the new laws and organizing legal opposition to them; most recently in Wayne County.

In August, the Seneca County Board of Supervisors passed a resolution stating its opposition to the law, County Manager Mitch Rowe noted. In the resolution, supervisors called the gun legislation an “unconstitutional infringement upon the Second Amendment right for law abiding citizens right to bear arms, an overt infringement upon freedom and liberty in New York State” and that it requires both “citizens and various permit issuing agencies to navigate new regulations that are riddled with cumbersome, confusing, and redundant barriers of compliance … ”

The resolution before the Wayne Board of Supervisors Tuesday morning states in part that the “County of Wayne is hereby declared a gun friendly county, which shall mean that those properly licensed to possess and carry a handgun shall be able to conceal and carry a handgun throughout the county unless specifically prohibited by statute or owner declaration … ” The resolution goes on to state that the concealed-carry legislation is “unduly burdensome to those individuals lawfully eligible to possess and carry a concealed firearm and as such calls upon the New York State Legislature to repeal such provisions as contrary to public safety and the constitutionally protected right to keep and bear arms … ”

On Wednesday, a Republican state senator and several historical re-enactors also spoke out publicly against the new laws regarding bearing arms in public, which, as written, appear to make it a felony offense to carry a modern day replica of antique muzzleloaders or muskets. Hochul’s own interpretation of the law is that these re-enactments are exempt, but to paraphrase The Dude himself, that’s like her opinion, man.

Sen. Dan Stec, R-Queensbury, spoke alongside battle reenactors at the Rogers Island Visitors Center in Fort Edward on Wednesday, after this weekend’s reenactment was canceled in reaction to a new gun control law in the state.

Stec said the process is an example of Gov. Kathy Hochul’s “shoddy, sloppy work.”

“You cannot amend the law via press release,” Stec repeated to news cameras on Wednesday. “Yes, this time the governor’s interpretation of the law would work in our favor, but next time it may not. We cannot set this precedent.”

Stec held a press conference alongside Ed Carpenter, Rogers Island Visitors Center board president and Fort Edward Village Board member, and three historical reenactors at the center to explain the cancellation of the site’s biggest event.

Stec explained the state’s new conceal and carry laws explicitly prohibit possession of a rifle or shotgun in “sensitive areas,” which include parks. When asked, he said the governor stated the law did not apply to the Adirondack Park or Catskill Park in a news release. However,

Stec said the legislators in support of the bill stated that the above parks were not exempt from the law.

Hochul seems to be following the lead of her predecessor in terms of re-interpreting the law to suit her own political needs. After the passage of the SAFE Act in 2013, then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo, hoping to avoid a court challenge, decided that the law’s ban on magazines that could hold more than 7-rounds of ammunition could be interpreted to mean that 10-round magazines were legal as long as they held no more than 7-rounds. Cuomo (and Hochul) have also failed to enact the SAFE Act’s requirement that background checks be conducted on all ammunition sales in the state, though Hochul has vowed to get the system up and running in recent months.

This isn’t even the first time that Hochul has offered her own interpretation of the latest gun laws, which have been on the books for less than a month. As Stec brought up, the governor has also said that the state’s declaration of parks as “sensitive places” where guns are banned doesn’t apply to massive state parks like Adirondack or Catskill park, many of the lawmakers who voted in favor of the anti-gun legislation say those locations are indeed included in the laundry list of “gun-free” zones. And just a day before the new application requirements for concealed carry licenses were set to take effect, Hochul proclaimed that all those who had not yet received their permit would have to apply under the new rules, even if their application was already being processed by their local sheriff or county clerk.

At least one upstate county clerk simply chose to disregard Hochul’s directive, telling Bearing Arms that it contradicted the guidance he’d received from local judges, the state police, and even the governor’s office itself, and I’m guessing he’s not alone.

Not only are we likely to see legal challenges to these new restrictions on the right to bear arms originate in upstate New York, I wouldn’t be surprised at all if there’s a red wave phenomenon in these counties on Election Day. I wouldn’t count on it being strong enough to overtake Hochul’s support in population-rich downstate counties, but candidates in local, state legislative, and even congressional races outside of New York City who are opposed to these new laws and supportive of attempts to undo or circumvent them could easily see a boost from gun owners and Second Amendment supporters incensed about the latest unconstitutional attack on their right to armed self-defense.