New York State Assembly approves gun storage legislation to improve child safety

On March 4, the New York State Assembly passed a gun safety measure requiring that firearms in households with children under the age of 16 be stored in a locked container or be disabled when not in the immediate possession of the owner.  The bill also requires gun license providers and businesses where firearms are sold to provide notice about the safe storage law.

“It’s simply common sense that young children should not have unsupervised access to dangerous weapons,” said Senator Liz Krueger, the lead sponsor of the bill in a statement. “Too many times we have seen the tragic results when kids get their hands on guns. These tragedies are preventable, and today we took an important step that will save lives.”

According to a 2016 study published in Pediatrics Journal, firearm-related fatalities are the third leading cause of injury-related death among children ages 0 to 17. There are close to 1,300 deaths and 5,790 injuries each year. A majority of those fatalities and injuries occurred within the home.

“All of the research says that if there’s a gun in the house, kids will find it and kids will use it,” said Elie Ward, the director of policy, advocacy and external relations for the New York chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). “That’s been demonstrated time and again by evidence-based research.”

Not only does the bill aim to prevent accidental injury and death, it was also drafted to discourage suicide attempts. “Having access to firearms is going to increase the likelihood that someone who is having suicidal thoughts is going to carry them out,” said Justin Flagg, a press representative for Sen. Krueger. “That is also part of the issue, not just accidental use but intentional use.”

According to a 2018 AAP study, more than 1,000 children and adolescents ages 10 to 19 die by suicide via a gun annually in the United States.

“Suicide attempts with guns tend to be successful closer to 100 percent of the time than any other approach, for instance pills, or jumping off something or hanging oneself,” said Ward. “The lethality of suicide by gun is significantly higher than any other method.”

Those opposed to the bill cited concerns about how it would be enforced. Flagg explained that law enforcement would not be actively checking if firearms are stored safely, but if they are called to a home for other reasons and it is observed that a firearm is not adequately stored, charges could be applied.

As for the accessibility of the firearm to the owner, the parameters of the bill only apply when the firearm is out of the owner’s immediate control.

If a gun is on your nightstand while you’re asleep, said Flagg, or under your pillow, “that it is in your possession and immediate control. Now, if you get up to go to the bathroom, you should take it with you.” He added that it has to stay “in your immediate possession or control.”

Firearm storage violations would result in a misdemeanor charge.

The requirement of firearms businesses to post notice about the law is in an effort to introduce an educational element.  “Our approach to the safe storage of firearms has always been through education rather than through mandatory legislation or mandatory storage laws,” said Mark Oliva, manager of public affairs for the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF).

While Ward agrees that education is important to the issue, sometimes legislation is necessary when education is not enough. “I think having a law really helps people focus,” she explained. “It helps people think twice about what they’re doing.”

An incident that occurred on March 25 in Baldwin prompted local legislators to urge the Governor Cuomo to sign the bill into law. According to the Nassau County Police Department, a 10-year-old student brought a loaded gun to Meadow Elementary School after allegedly taking it from a relative’s home.

Legislators Birnbaum (left) and Mulé (right) stand with Minority Leader Abrahams (center) and gun safety activists to address the incident that occurred in Baldwin and urge Governor Cuomo to sign the safe storage bill into law at a March 27 press conference.

“The incident both underscores the importance of the legislation our colleagues in Albany passed, but also the opportunity we missed in Nassau County to exhibit leadership in protecting our children from unsecured guns,” said Legislator Debra Mulé (D-Freeport) in a joint statement with Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Hempstead) on March 27.

Legislator Ellen Birnbaum (D-Great Neck) filed safe storage legislation for Nassau County back in 2016, but it has not made it to a public hearing.

“It is unfathomable to me that a 10-year-old can get his hands on a gun with such apparent ease and that the Legislature’s majority has refused for nearly three years to even consider common-sense legislation that would help to address a potentially life-threatening problem,” said Abrahams.

Gov. Cuomo is expected to sign the bill into law by the end of the year. According to Jason Cornwall, a press representative for the governor, the bill must be reviewed to ensure there are no technical, legal and operational concerns but he emphasized that Gov. Cuomo has been successful in revamping New York’s gun control laws.

“Throughout his eight years in office, Gov. Cuomo has been unwavering in his commitment to strengthen gun control laws, including passing the SAFE Act in 2012, which is the strongest gun control law in the nation,” said Cornwall in a statement.