Will N.Y. Gunowners Register Newly Regulated Firearms?

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New York has adopted the toughest gun control laws in the country — banning assault rifles and large clips. But now state officials have to figure out how to make the new rules work — and they have to convince gun owners to comply.

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New York's tough new gun control law, which was passed earlier this month, bans most sales of assault rifles. It also includes other restrictions that will be phased in over the next couple of years. And as New York officials move to implement the law, they're meeting with gun owners and sportsmen's groups.

North Country Public Radio's Brian Mann attended one of those sessions yesterday and heard a lot of confusion, anger, and defiance from gun owners.

BRIAN MANN, BYLINE: In a packed meeting room in Lake Placid, New York, the idea of gun control and the reality are meeting face to face.

COLONEL TOM FAZIO: Good afternoon everybody, my name is Tom Fazio. I'm a...

MANN: State police Colonel Tom Fazio clicks through a PowerPoint presentation, laying out New York's brand new gun law. His audience is made up mostly of guys in camouflage coats and hunting caps.

FAZIO: Assault weapons, the owners of assault weapons have until April 2014...

MANN: It's a nuts and bolts kind of talk. Fazio says he doesn't want to talk about the politics of the new rules. Instead, he spends a quarter-hour describing deadlines for registering rifles and giving details of how to modify a high-capacity clip to make it legal.

But when it's time for questions, a lot of people in the crowd, like Steve Bozell from Saranac Lake, New York, don't seem all that interested in how the new law is supposed to work. Instead, he wants to know how to work around it.

STEVE BOZELL: It says sale of assault weapons banned in New York. So what if I go to Vermont and buy one and bring it into New York?

FAZIO: You couldn't possess it in New York.

BOZELL: So it's sale or possession, so I'm dead in the water. I can never have an assault weapon.

MANN: In the national gun control debate, this is one of the big questions. What happens if you ban or restrict a type of rifle or a magazine that has been legal - a weapon that a lot of people already own? Will gun owners agree to turn in or register newly regulated firearms?

Darrell Savage from Tupper Lake, New York, says his answer is simple.

DARRELL SAVAGE: They're just stomping on our rights for no reason and it's not going to save a single life. You know, and it's turning me into a criminal.

MANN: Do you plan to comply?

SAVAGE: No. Definitely not.

MANN: State officials here are clearly trying to avoid the spectacle of arresting gun owners who violate the new rules. There's a lengthy grace period for most of the law's provisions and registration of guns and new background checks for ammunition purchases will be cost-free.

But a lot of gun owners, like Barry Mattoon from Tupper Lake, New York, don't trust those efforts and they worry that police will start seizing guns and magazines.

BARRY MATTOON: Will it be confiscated? Or taken?

KEVIN BRUEN: If you're asking me, will the state police enter your home and take magazines...

MANN: The guy answering that question is Kevin Bruen, an attorney for the state police. He says police will be handing out a lot of warnings, at least at first. But people who hold on to banned guns or magazines or fail to register them after the law's deadlines will be committing a crime.

That idea is pretty unpopular in this room and Bruen works hard to keep the meeting from spinning out of control.

BRUEN: No. Wait a second...

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: So you don't know...

BRUEN: You asked a question, now I'm going to try to answer the question.

MANN: This meeting is being held in a rural part of northern New York, where opposition to the law is strongest. A poll by the Siena Research Institute earlier this month found that 73 percent of New Yorkers, statewide, actually support the assault rifle ban.

A few of the gun owners here say they agree that some new regulations were needed.

Jeff Bartel from Lake Placid - whose gun collection includes rifles covered by the new law - says he thinks clamping down on weapon sales at gun shows was a good idea.

JEFF BARTEL: I'd gladly give up all my weapons if somebody could look me in the eye and tell me that would stop all the violence.

MANN: But Bartel shares the view of the vast majority of these gun owners, who doubt New York's laws will make people safer - or keep dangerous weapons out of the hands of criminals.

For NPR News, I'm Brian Mann in Lake Placid, New York.

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