The SAFE Act, which gave legal legs to tracking ammunition sales in real time, has been grappling with the implementation of a database for several years. State IT staff are looking to other states for direction.
(TNS) — In the wake of two mass shootings that killed more than 30 people in Texas and Ohio, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo touted New York's tough anti-gun laws as a nationwide model during a radio interview on Monday.
Cuomo did not mention that six years years after passage of the landmark SAFE Act, a key plank remains unimplemented: the state's plan to build a database to track ammunition purchases in real time.
In July, California completed its version of such a database two and a half years after voters approved implementation of the system via referendum.
Beau Duffy, a spokesman for the agency in charge of implementing the database, the New York State Police, said its completion remains a "priority." Work on the database is ongoing in tandem with the state Office of Information Technology Services.
"That work will continue until the database is realized," Duffy said. "Connecting dealers with a state system is a significant hurdle, one that did not exist in California, since the infrastructure linking firearms dealers directly to the state was already in place."
Duffy noted that California is a "point of contact" state. That means that background checks for firearm purchases go from dealers to the state of California, which then has an electronic connection to a federal database. In New York, dealers connect directly to the federal database, which presents a challenge for the design of the ammunition database, according to Duffy.
ITS is tasked with developing New York's technology for the database. About 30 State Police employees work in the firearms section and a number of them have worked on aspects of the SAFE Act, including the ammunition database project, Duffy said.
Funds for database development were allocated by the state to ITS, Duffy said.
That's relevant in light of a 2015 "memorandum of understanding" signed by then-state Operations Director Jim Malatras and Senate Republican Leader John Flanagan, which stipulated the database could not be implemented until both signatories agreed that it was ready to be switched on and no money would be allocated to fund its operations.
At the beginning of 2019, Senate Democrats, who are much more strongly in favor of gun control legislation than Republicans, took charge of the chamber from Flanagan's GOP.
Cuomo spokesman Rich Azzopardi said Monday that the MOU was not a factor in the database's progress. He called the 2015 agreement "nothing more than a recognition that the technology wasn't available as of yet."
"As we've always said, it's the State Police superintendent alone who has the authority to go forward with this under the law and nothing has changed," Azzopardi said.
Cuomo's public responses have suggested he's not keeping close tabs of the database's development. Asked about the holdup in a September 2018 meeting with the Times Union's editorial board, Cuomo repeatedly said he was unaware of the progress on the project.
"I don't know. I will check," Cuomo said. "But it is not a significant aspect of the SAFE Act."
When Cuomo signed the gun law in January 2013, the database was listed in his press release as among its "key" provisions.
In September 2018, Azzopardi told the Times Union that the State Police and ITS had "reviewed a number of technological solutions" to implement the database, and had been "unable to address the myriad of legal and operational implementation obstacles."
In a radio interview on Monday with WAMC's Alan Chartock, Cuomo repeatedly touted the passage of the SAFE Act, which also included a ban on high-capacity ammunition magazines and instant background checks.
"I saw my political numbers drop, my popularity drop, because it's such a polarizing issue," Cuomo said. "But six years later, we were right."
Responding to this weekend's mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, Cuomo called on President Donald J. Trump to implement provisions similar to the SAFE Act through an emergency executive order, even if it would cause legal conflict with Congress.
"Fine, that's leadership," Cuomo said. "Frame the debate."
In terms of Democratic strategy, Cuomo called on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer to agree to specific gun control legislation, and then invite 2020 Democratic presidential candidates to sign on.
That strategy would give Democrats a coherent platform, rather than overwhelming the public with a "Chinese menu" of options, Cuomo said.
©2019 the Times Union (Albany, N.Y.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.