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NY State Police Not Sure When Ammo Background Checks will be Ready Under SAFE Act

So far, the right technology solutions have been "elusive."

The head of the New York State Police said Wednesday he has no idea when ammunition background checks, a key component of the state’s SAFE Act, will begin across the state.

State Police Superintendent Joseph A. D’Amico said that his agency is still trying to find the right technology that will allow owners of gun shops to swiftly complete the background checks, but that, so far, the solutions have been elusive.

“It’s not ready today,” D’Amico told lawmakers during a hearing on Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s proposed budget for the fiscal year that begins April 1.

The Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act, which was passed a year ago, permitted the State Police as of mid-January to begin a program requiring dealers to run a background check of anyone buying ammunition in the state. The state could not piggyback onto a federal gun-purchase background system because the U.S. government bans that program’s use for ammunition purchases.

The Buffalo News reported in October that the background-check component of the law would not be up and running, as backers had hoped, by Jan. 15. The law did not require that the checks be done as of that date, but Jan. 15 was when the state could have ordered the program to begin.

D’Amico said he has not yet found a system that will work without possibly inconveniencing either the ammunition customer or the retailer.

“It can’t bring the transaction to a halt,” D’Amico said of whatever background-check system the state eventually embraces. He said the system he wants must be “absolutely seamless” during the transaction. He declined to speculate on possible fees that the state might charge retailers – who would then pass those costs to consumers in some way – for running the ammunition background checks.

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Gun rights groups have contended that they have heard speculation that charges of up to $10 per background check could go into place.

“I just think it’s premature to talk about the costs when we don’t have a solution,” D’Amico said of trying to find the right technology to run the background-check system.

Cuomo’s budget plan does not count on any fees for the ammunition background checks for fiscal 2014-15.

Besides the ammunition check, another key provision of the SAFE Act is also not being enforced. The superintendent said the State Police, like many law enforcement agencies, has also not been enforcing the SAFE Act’s new seven-round restriction per magazine since a federal judge in Buffalo in December struck down that portion of the law.

Chief U.S. District Judge William M. Skretny upheld key portions of the SAFE Act but rejected the provision that reduced from 10 to seven the number of rounds permitted in a magazine. He called that provision “tenuous, strained and unsupported.” The Cuomo administration is appealing that ruling.

D’Amico noted that some prosecutors in the state believe that the seven-round limit can still be enforced.

“There’s pending litigation which could change it,” D’Amico said of the seven-round limit, “but as of today, we’re not enforcing it.”

©2014 The Buffalo News (Buffalo, N.Y.)