Newly signed state gun law had beginnings in Village of Pelham and efforts of Progressive Women of Pelham


Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed two new gun safety bills Sept. 3 that are aimed at increasing background checks and protecting the safety of law enforcement and New Yorkers. Both laws close loopholes in the 2013 SAFE Act. The first law requires out-of-state buyers to submit to the same mental health and criminal background checks as in-state buyers, and the other will allow law enforcement officers to access information about handgun owners’ applications.

While the SAFE Act requires those who apply for a firearm license to submit for a background check, previous legislation prohibited access to out-of-state records pertaining to applicants who are mentally ill. This created a loophole which did not prevent such out-of-state buyers from applying for a firearm license in New York. The new law, Access to Home State Records, closes that loophole and requires out-of-state buyers receive the same background checks as in-state applicants.

The second law giving police access to gun ownership information was introduced in Albany as a direct result of lobbying by the Progressive Women of Pelham to the Pelham Board of Trustees last April, in which the group brought attention to a dangerous loophole in the SAFE Act. In a press release, the PWP outlined how the inability to access such data, such as the number of guns that a resident may have in their possession, puts police officers at an extreme disadvantage when assessing a situation and responding to a call.

Pelham Deputy Mayor Adam Kagan, Trustee Hanan Eldahry, and then-Mayor Michael Volpe responded to these concerns, and requesting that such information be made accessible to local law enforcement, but were denied by the county. They then approached State Sen. Alessandra Biaggi and Assemblywoman Amy Paulin, requesting that a bill be drafted in order to grant officers access to the information which already exists within the county, including the names and addresses of gun holders and number of guns they own. Paulin and Biaggi were successful in getting the bill passed through the assembly and state senate in early June and onto the governor’s desk.

The police information bill has been referred to by many Pelham residents as the “Pelham Bill.” When asked if this was what the bill was called in Albany, Biaggi said that “there wasn’t actually a name given to it, but I think that calling it the Pelham Bill is probably very accurate because it originated from the Progressive Women of Pelham as well as the Pelham government here, (who) brought this issue to myself and to Amy Paulin.”

In a press release regarding the measure Gov. Cuomo said, “While Washington stands idly by and allows a gun violence epidemic to tear our nation apart at the seams, causing more and more families to grieve and children to grow up without their parents, New York is leading the way and enacting smart, common sense gun safety laws to help prevent these needless tragedies.”

The SAFE Act included provisions for the creation of a statewide database of firearm carriers, however the act did not specify how this would be done or paid for. In December 2012, following the Sandy Hook mass shooting, the Journal News newspaper posted a map outlining the names and addresses of all Westchester and Rockland County permit-holding residents. This led to the addition of a section of the SAFE Act which allowed anyone to make their personal and permit information private and not publicly accessible, though the information was still collected by each county and held by county clerks. This was interpreted by county leaders to mean the information could not be accessed by local police.

The new law, Access to Information on Firearm License Applications, will allow law enforcement to be able to access such information and sanctions the creation of a license and record database of all firearm holders in New York.

“This law makes everyone in New York State safer—in particular our first responders,” said Mayor Chance Mullen. “For well over a year, Deputy Mayor Kagan and Trustee Eldahry have championed this law, working alongside our state reps, Assemblywoman Paulin and Senator Biaggi… We should be incredibly proud that this initiative traces back to Pelham and grateful to our neighbors for their efforts.”

Eldahry said she is “extremely happy that (the signing of the bill) finally did happen. This bill not only makes every police officer safer, it makes every resident at the scene of a 911 call safer.”

The new law does not take the place of the statewide firearms database promised in the SAFE Act, which Kagan and Eldhary still wish to see executed. It instead allows police officers to know whether or not there is a firearm present in a residence when responding to a call. In terms of the possible objection to this law on the grounds of it being a violation of privacy, Biaggi and Kagan agreed that this has not been voiced as a concern mainly because most people assume that once an individual registers a firearm, police officers have access to the registration. Permit holders do not need to submit their information to their local law enforcement, as the information already exists, and it will be accessible only to local police departments, not public information.