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New York State has some of the toughest gun laws in the country. Compliance with those laws is another matter. New York passed a broad package of gun regulations after the school shooting in Newtown, Conn., despite the objections of hunters and gun rights advocates. It appears that many gun owners are refusing to observe a key provision that requires the registration of so-called assault weapons. NPR's Joel Rose begins his report in a place that hears that refusal often.
JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: The first thing you notice at American Trade and Goods is the taxidermy - heads of deer, bears, buffalo, even a pair of lions. Then you start to focus on the merchandise.
BRIAN OLESEN: This is our firearms section. We have a very diverse group of firearms here from high-end over-unders...
ROSE: Brian Olesen owns this store and seven others around Albany, N.Y. Olesen says his customers overwhelmingly oppose the SAFE Act, as the state's 2013 gun law is known. It includes some of the nation's toughest regulations on guns and ammunition.
OLESEN: I think this law was so incredibly repressive that it drove people to the point now that they're basically saying, we're not going to abide by any more laws.
ROSE: The law includes a ban on the sale of so-called military style assault weapons like the AR-15 style long rifle used in the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. It also requires New Yorkers to register the assault weapons they already own with police. Critics of the law see registration as the first step towards confiscation, and some say they just won't do it.
JOSEPH FULLER: I just don't think there's any need to. I mean, why would I?
ROSE: Joseph Fuller of Cohoes, N.Y., is browsing in the used gun section. Fuller says he owns several guns, including at least one that he's required to register under the SAFE Act, but he hasn't.
FULLER: I don't pay attention to it, to be honest (laughter).
ROSE: You don't?
FULLER: No, I don't.
ROSE: And you don't sound worried about it either.
FULLER: No, I'm not - not at all. I have friends up - out in the boondocks, you know what I mean? They won't register their guns either, and they told me the same thing. Don't even bother. And I don't worry about it, you know?
ROSE: No one knows exactly how many so-called assault weapons there are in New York, but the number is likely far more than the 45,000 that have been registered so far. The New York State Police released that number recently, but only after it was ordered to by a court. Tom King is the president of the New York State Rifle and Pistol Association which pushed hard against the passage of the SAFE Act.
TOM KING: It still may be law, but the people of New York state have repealed it on their own. They're just ignoring the law.
LEAH BARRETT: I think 45,000 is a lot of assault weapons. I think it's evidence of how long overdue this law is.
ROSE: Leah Barrett is executive director of New Yorkers Against Gun Violence. Barrett points out that multiple public opinion polls, including one commissioned by her group, show that 60 percent of New Yorkers support the SAFE Act.
BARRETT: They support the background check requirement. They support the state's ban on military style assault weapons. They even support the background checks on ammunition sales because they know that these are entirely reasonable.
ROSE: But the law's opponents show no signs of backing down. They've been especially loud in upstate New York where hunting is still a big part of the culture. That includes many elected county sheriff's. Christopher Moss is the sheriff in Chemung County, a rural area near the Pennsylvania border.
CHRISTOPHER MOSS: When I prioritize what I need to do as a sheriff, the SAFE Act comes in at the bottom of that list. And I do look at it, personally, as an infringement on Second Amendment rights.
ROSE: That puts Moss and many other state sheriffs at odds with Democratic governor Andrew Cuomo. Cuomo touted the SAFE Act during his reelection campaign last year, but his administration did not respond to requests for comment on the apparent lack of enforcement. And this month, Cuomo agreed to postpone another controversial part of the law - a statewide database to track ammunition purchases.
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ANDREW CUOMO: When the database is ready, it will be instituted. But if people are worried that we're going to do it before it's ready, we're not going to do it before it's ready.
ROSE: That did not appease upstate Republican lawmakers. Some are still trying to repeal the SAFE Act, and gun rights groups are challenging the law in court. A federal judge mostly upheld the law. An appeals court is expected to rule on the case this year. Joel Rose, NPR News, New York.
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