In New York, Gun Owners Balk At New Handgun Database A plan to have gun owners in New York register their handguns has sparked anger. State officials say a database will help keep guns out of the hands of people who legally shouldn't have them.
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In New York, Gun Owners Balk At New Handgun Database

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In New York, Gun Owners Balk At New Handgun Database

In New York, Gun Owners Balk At New Handgun Database

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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

By the end of the month, thousands of people in New York will have to have their firearms registered with the state or risk criminal charges. New York is building a comprehensive record of gun owners, one of the first in the country. The plan is to make sure people who are legally prohibited from owning guns don't have them. North Country Public Radio's Lauren Rosenthal reports the program is causing a backlash.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Please enjoy your time here at the Albany Gun Show, and be safe.

LAUREN ROSENTHAL, BYLINE: Beyond all the folding tables stacked with rifles, Tom King, president of New York's NRA affiliate, spent his day answering a question that's been on everyone's mind.

TOM KING: People are saying, well, do I have to register, or don't I have to register? So yeah, there is a lot of confusion.

ROSENTHAL: Confusion, he says, about New York's new handgun database and what it's for. It's been law since 2013. Just after the Sandy Hook school shooting, a lot of states passed tougher gun control measures. New York banned most assault weapons, but Governor Andrew Cuomo said he wanted to go even further.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ANDREW CUOMO: We'll have for the first time a statewide handgun database that will allow the state, allow local officials to check periodically.

ROSENTHAL: Police will scan hundreds of thousands of legally licensed handgun owners against criminal records, mental health files and restraining orders. Cuomo thinks it could prevent tragedy.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CUOMO: You don't want criminals and people who are mentally ill to have access to guns.

ROSENTHAL: That message made sense to a lot of people, especially in urban areas where New York's gun control law is popular. But facing the first big registration deadline, some rural gun owners are pushing back.

(SOUNDBITE OF RADIO SHOW, "THE 2ND AMENDMENT SHOW")

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: Now a radio show dedicated to the genius of the declaration of divine right...

ROSENTHAL: Bill Robinson is a talk radio host outside Rochester.

(SOUNDBITE OF RADIO SHOW, "THE 2ND AMENDMENT SHOW")

BILL ROBINSON: The government shouldn't have master lists of us gun owners and the specific guns we have. They don't need it.

ROSENTHAL: A lot of gun owners are angry. They agree that bad guys shouldn't have guns, but they think New York is trying to turn them into those bad guys because if they don't register on time, it's a felony, and their gun permits are gone. Here's Tom King again.

KING: You just can't do that to people that live in your state that are lawful gun owners. You can't make them overnight criminals.

ROSENTHAL: The people King's worried about are those who had handguns before the 2013 law went into effect. They're the ones who have to re-register. As of the deadline, more than 80,000 people, or 20 percent of affected handgun owners in New York, still haven't responded to the state's request. But state police spokesman Beau Duffy says all the concern about this gun database is overblown.

BEAU DUFFY: We're not going to take criminal enforcement action, particularly with those people who were unaware of the recertification process.

ROSENTHAL: So no felony charges, Duffy says, at least not yet. The next big question is how this registry is going to be used and who's going to follow up with gun owners. Laura Cutilletta, legal director for the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, expects police will try to make it a priority.

LAURA CUTILLETTA: Because to know who is determined to be dangerous already and has a gun - I mean, what better information could you give law enforcement than something like that?

ROSENTHAL: But Cutilletta doesn't think these systems will start popping up nationwide. They're too expensive. New York's could cost $28 million. Instead, Cutilletta says she and other gun control advocates are looking at new kinds of restraining orders and petitions, other ways to get guns away from people who might do harm. For NPR News, I'm Lauren Rosenthal in northern New York.

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