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Three weeks after Buffalo mass shooting, Hochul signs New York's gun violence bills into law

Office of Governor Kathy Hochul

Three weeks and two days after the mass shooting at a Buffalo supermarket, Governor Kathy Hochul signed ten gun control bills into law, including a provision that raised the age to buy a semi-automatic rifle from age 18 to 21.

Hochul’s hometown of Buffalo is grieving in the aftermath of a racially motivated shooting at a Tops supermarket that killed 10 African Americans.

“I’m speaking to you today as a governor of a state in mourning,” Hochul said. “And a citizen of a nation in crisis.”

The bills are aimed at closing some loopholes that allowed the 18-year-old alleged gunman to purchase a semi-automatic rifle and a bulletproof vest while evading the state’s red flag laws.

Under the measures, law enforcement will now be required to ask a judge for an order to seize the guns of anyone they think might be a threat to themselves or others. The alleged shooter threatened to commit a murder-suicide at his high school in 2021, but the red flag laws were never used against him.

Hochul said the purchase of body armor will be banned except by law enforcement and people in potentially dangerous professions. And no one under 21 will be allowed to buy semi-automatic rifles in New York.

“So no 18-year-old can walk in on their birthday and walk out again with an AR-15,” Hochul said. “Those days are over.”

Other bills signed into law require gun manufacturers to allow for the microstamping of bullets to better trace weapons used in commission of crimes. Another closes a loophole that allowed the category of "any other weapon," which Hochul said are essentially guns, but are deliberately designed to evade gun control laws.

Hochul was joined by legislative leaders, Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown and Attorney General Letitia James, who said she would vigorously fight any challenges to the measures.

“To …all those drunk with power who think that they will challenge those laws,” James said, "the Second Amendment is not absolute.”

A California law that raised the age to purchase a semi-automatic rifle to 21 was struck down by a federal court.

Hochul said while New York responded rapidly to the mass shootings, national action is needed. She said that decades ago, when car accidents were the number one killer of children in America, the nation responded with seat belt laws and other safety measures that were unpopular at the time.

“We took away the freedom to ride in a car without a seat belt,” Hochul said. “It was a very big deal when it happened.”

But, she said, people adapted.

“And guess what? We saved the lives of thousands of children,” she said. “So it was clearly worth it.”

Now, more children die from gun violence than from any other cause. Hochul said the nation has to act in this “moment of reckoning," and history will judge our actions.

Karen has covered state government and politics for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 New York and Connecticut stations, since 1990. She is also a regular contributor to the statewide public television program about New York State government, New York Now. She appears on the reporter’s roundtable segment, and interviews newsmakers.