Despite Registration Deadline Passing, SAFE Act Difficult To Enforce

Now that the April 15 deadline to register assault weapons – as defined by the New York SAFE Act – has come and gone, the question of how best to police its violators looms larger than ever.

After all, many gun owners have expressed concern and even downright derision over the law since its passage in January 2013, and have threatened to not comply with what they consider an ill-conceived infringement of law-abiding gun ownership.

Despite the risks, such as a class A misdemeanor or a felony for those with an unregistered assault weapon purchased after Jan. 15, 2013, many remain compelled in their defiance.

In a recent meeting of the Chautauqua County chapter of SCOPE, or the Shooters Committee on Political Education, a number of guest speakers actually prided themselves on not registering their weapons, describing their brazen act of rebellion as not a crime, but rather a badge of honor.

“We’re not telling anybody to break the law,” said Sid Compton, chairman of the county SCOPE chapter. “It’s up to the individual (whether they want to register or not) … it’s their decision.”

Of course, with the barrage of anti-government rhetoric delivered by SCOPE, compounded with the absurdly symbolic value bestowed upon gun ownership, it’s not unseemly for some to justify non-compliance as a bold – albeit misguided – gesture of freedom.

“I understand that some people don’t trust the government and that registration is considered a step toward confiscation,” said Joseph Gerace, Chautauqua County sheriff. “(Law enforcement) takes an oath to uphold the law of the state and if someone files a report saying they know a guy shooting an unregistered gun, we would have an obligation to look into that.”

Gerace indicated, however, that the overall policing of individuals who have unregistered guns is not feasible.

“We are not going to actively search for people who haven’t registered their assault weapons unless someone uses an assault weapon (as part of) a crime,” Gerace said. “We don’t have the time and resources to (look into everybody).”

Gerace also added that the enforcement of certain SAFE Act components has yet to be fully drawn out by the state, an observation echoed by the New York State Police in regard to the five-year recertification of pistol permit holders.

“Plans have not been set in stone yet I don’t believe the (state) has offered a time frame to when exactly (the recertification process) would commence,” said a member of the New York State Police.

Indeed, the ebbs and flows of the SAFE Act may simply be indicative of a large-scale law coming into fruition, or – as many critics would attest – a testament to its complexity and failure.

“The people in Albany don’t have a clue what they’re talking about,” Compton said. “Making an illegal gun legal by simply making some cosmetic changes is stupid. The action and caliber of the gun are still the same, except it doesn’t look like a mean gun now. That’s how ridiculous this law is.”

The SAFE Act, or Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act, was signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in January 2013. Its primary goal is to stop criminals and mentally ill individuals from buying a gun by imposing universal background checks on purchases and a ban on assault weapons.

Critics believe the law is fundamentally misguided, conceived out of ignorance and driven by overblown media perceptions and an impulsive emotional reaction from the Sandy Hook school shootings in December 2012.