How NY’s new gun laws will impact hunting season Traveling outdoor enthusiasts who fail to comply with new legislation could face criminal charges by Jeff Murray
Binghamton Press & Sun Bulletin USA TODAY NETWORK
Outdoor enthusiasts who carry firearms afield for hunting in New York this fall need to be aware of new gun laws that will affect their activities.
State lawmakers passed two new packages of gun legislation this year.
One was in response to a mass shooting in Buffalo and creates new requirements for the sale of semiautomatic rifles.
The other, in response to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling striking down New York’s concealed carry law, includes provisions regarding the transportation and storage of firearms.
Both new laws, and the second bill in particular, could have an impact on hunters who travel afield in pursuit of deer and other game.
Hunters who fail to comply with the new requirements could inadvertently find themselves facing criminal charges.
What is the ‘Concealed Carry Improvement Act?’
In June, the U.S Supreme Court threw out a New York law that required New Yorkers who want to carry a handgun in public to show a special need to defend themselves, ruling the law violates the 2nd Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
In response, Gov. Kathy Hochul called the state legislature back into special session and lawmakers passed the Concealed Carry Improvement Act.
Most of the provisions of the new law deal with where concealed carry permit holders can legally carry handguns and where they can’t, but there are also new rules involving storage and transportation of all firearms.
The law requires any firearms left unattended in a vehicle to be stored in a lockable plastic or metal, hard-sided gun case or safe, and hidden from view.
The firearm can also be secured with a trigger lock or cable lock in lieu of a locking case, as long as it’s out of sight.
If the hunter lives with anyone under 18 or anyone who is prohibited from possessing a gun, all firearms must either be secured with a gun locking device such as a trigger lock that makes them incapable of being fired, or securely locked in a safe or secure container which is locked with a key, keypad, or combination.
Are semiautomatic rifles still legal for hunting?
As of Sept. 4, anyone who wants to take ownership of a semiautomatic rifle in New York must be at least 21 years old and must first apply for and acquire a New York State semiautomatic rifle license, similar to the requirement for a pistol permit to possess a handgun.
However, a person of any legal hunting age may temporarily possess or borrow a legal semi-automatic rifle for hunting.
“The new law only applies to the new purchase in New York state of a semiautomatic rifle,” said Steuben County Sheriff Jim Allard, whose office is among law enforcement agencies responsible for enforcement of the new laws. “Any lawful owners of a semiautomatic rifle continue to be lawful owners.” How will the laws be enforced?
Several hunting seasons are open now, but the biggest influx of hunters going afield will take place on opening day of regular deer season, scheduled for Nov. 19 across most of the state.
Steuben County annually leads New York state in deer harvest, and people flock to the county from all over New York and beyond to hunt there, so Allard is well aware of issues that often crop up during hunting season.
Allard agrees with the concept of secure transport of firearms, but he doesn’t believe imposing criminal charges for violations is the best solution.
“I believe that it is always good to store valuables out of sight in a vehicle as a best practice to deter theft,” he said. “I find it much better to gain compliance through education than enforcement, utilizing the arm of enforcement only after education and counseling has failed.”
The state Department of Environmental Conservation is responsible for enforcing laws related to hunting, and that will include the new laws affecting firearms transport.
“Should potential violations be observed, DEC’s environmental conservation police officers (ECOs) and forest rangers investigate all incidents and crimes to the fullest extent possible within the legal parameters allowed, consistent with the particular situation and circumstances,” DEC said in a statement.
Will the new measures deter crime?
Gun control has been a hotly-debated issue in New York for years, at least since the legislature passed the SAFE Act (Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement) in response to the December 2012 mass shooting at an elementary school in Connecticut.
Gov. Kathy Hochul and legislative leaders say the new legislation is necessary to ensure the safety of New Yorkers after the Supreme Court invalidated the former concealed carry law.
“The bill does have several improvements that are intended to ensure fairness, consistency and due process,” Sen. Brian Kavanagh, D-Manhattan, said about the Concealed Carry Improvement Act. But Republican lawmakers said the changes won’t stop criminals from misusing firearms, and some law enforcement officials are also skeptical.
“It has been our experience that far more guns are stolen from hunting cabin burglaries than from vehicles,” Allard said. “To my knowledge, no data exists that would lead a reasonable person to believe that violent crimes result from a lack of vehicle security while hunting.”
DEC officials agree firearm thefts from vehicles during hunting season are not common.
How can I learn more?
Education about the new laws is an important component, according to DEC, which has done extensive outreach through its website, mailings, newsletters and public interaction with conservation officers, license issuing agents and hunter education instructors.
Information about the law’s changes can be found on both DEC’s website, dec.ny.gov, and the state’s gun safety website, gunsafety.ny.gov. New Yorkers can also call 1-855-LAW-GUNS for questions about guns or assistance with form submissions.
State land that was open to hunting in the past remains open under the new legislation, DEC said.
For more information about state land open to hunting, go to dec.ny.gov/ outdoor/7844.html.
A pair of Southern Tier hunters heads into the woods for opening day of deer season.