Beyond Thoughts and Prayers

Guestwords by State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr.

When it comes to gun violence, we need more than thoughts and prayers.

Again and again, senseless gun violence takes innocent lives, leaving agony, heartbreak, and indescribable grief in its wake. But as the brave survivors from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., have made clear, there can be no excuse for inaction. These tragedies — whether it’s the headline-grabbing mass shootings or the day-to-day gun violence that afflicts some of our neighborhoods — don’t have to be routine. Kids don’t have to die. 

One piece of legislation that I supported and the Assembly passed prohibits the possession, manufacture, transport, shipment, and sale of devices that accelerate the firing rate of firearms so they operate in the same manner as machine guns, including trigger cranks and bump-fire devices. Under current New York State law, attaching such a device to a firearm is illegal, because once attached, the weapon is considered a machine gun. However, there is no restriction on the sale or possession of bump stocks or other similar devices that are not attached to a firearm. 

This type of firearm modification enabled a single gunman to kill 58 people and injure over 500 in the October 2017 Las Vegas mass shooting. Using bump stocks on two separate weapons, he was able to fire more than 1,100 rounds in approximately 10 minutes. This horrific level of violence shows why gun modifications of this kind should never be in the hands of civilians. 

The legislative package also establishes the ability of a court to issue a restraining order, known as an “extreme risk protection order,” prohibiting a person who exhibits serious signs of being a threat to themselves or others from purchasing or possessing a firearm for up to one year. The petitioner, who could be a family member or law enforcement officer, would be required to file a sworn application describing the circumstances and justification for the request. Following a hearing, the court could grant the order if there were a finding that there is reasonable cause to believe the person in question is likely to engage in conduct that would result in serious harm to him or herself or others. In emergency circumstances, the court would also be authorized to issue a temporary order restricting access to firearms pending a final hearing.

Under the existing appeals procedure provided in the civil practice laws and rules, individuals would be permitted to appeal a court’s decision to issue an extreme risk protection order. They would also be entitled to submit a request at any time, while the order is in place, for a hearing to discontinue the order based on a change of circumstances and a showing that he or she no longer poses a danger.

This legislation in no way hinders the rights of law-abiding citizens. What it does is help prevent suicides, fatal domestic violence incidents, and possibly even mass shootings. Simply put, an extreme risk protection order could prove the difference between life and death. 

Currently, five states — California, Connecticut, Indiana, Oregon, and Washington — have these so-called red flag laws in place.

To further help keep guns out of the wrong hands, the legislative package includes the Domestic Violence Escalation Prevention Act, which would prevent domestic violence abusers from having access to weapons by prohibiting someone who has been convicted of a domestic violence crime from purchasing or possessing a firearm. 

More than half of all female homicide victims in this country are killed by an intimate partner, with nearly three women murdered every day. Those aren’t just startling statistics, they are mothers, sisters, and friends whose lives are brutally taken, and one of the first steps in preventing these tragedies is making sure their abusers don’t have a gun. 

Further, legislation was passed to establish a waiting period of 10 days — instead of the current three days — before a gun can be delivered to a purchaser whose background check is not completed. Under current federal law, gun dealers must conduct a background check through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System before selling a firearm. The NICS system responds with one of three messages — “proceed,” “denied,” or “delayed.” The dealer must deny the sale if the NICS background check determines the buyer is a prohibited purchaser and responds with a “denied” message. However, if the response is “delayed,” the dealer may nonetheless complete the sale after three business days. In these cases, the Federal Bureau of Investigation continues to investigate whether the person is an eligible purchaser beyond the three-day period even though the person has likely already been sold the firearm.

According to the F.B.I., more than 15,000 gun sales went forward between 2010 and 2014 to people who were prohibited from purchasing or possessing a firearm because the determination whether to deny or proceed could not be made within three business days. The additional waiting period provided for in the legislation would help ensure that only those who have cleared a background check are able to purchase firearms. 

Another measure passed by the Assembly requires out-of-state citizens who have homes in New York to waive the confidentiality of their home state mental illness records when applying for a firearm here. Closing this dangerous loophole will help law enforcement better protect our communities.

We need to do more to combat gun violence, and we need to do it now. No parent should have to bury his or her child because someone who shouldn’t have had a gun got one. Let’s stand together and say enough is enough.

Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. lives in Sag Harbor.