Albany County's ammunition sales law is way out of step

By FRED LEBRUN, Staff writer
First published in print: Wednesday, March 11, 2009;TextPage=1

Gun control at a highly restrictive level New York has never seen before is imbedded in a local law under consideration at the moment by the Albany County Legislature.

Local Law "A" for 2009 would tightly regulate "in the interests of public safety" all ammunition sold in Albany County. Not just ammo for handguns, which already is closely monitored by state law, but all rifle and shotgun ammunition as well. Hunting and target shooting ammo, basically. Anyone buying rounds or shells, even .22s, would have to show identification, declare the gun and have its serial number registered with the ammo seller. The buyer would have to state his intent of use, and could be refused the purchase. The ammo seller, at the same time, would be required to keep records for 10 years.

Anyway you look at it, this amounts to yet another unreasonable assault on lawful gun owners and hunters without any logic behind it except to harass. It's ludicrous.

Not to mention that this flies in the face of a long tradition in this state, and in nearly all other states, of not registering long guns – that is, rifles or shotguns. These are not weapons typically used in crimes or the illegal gun trade, anyway.

There is simply no demonstrable need for this law, none. Even if there were, this is something that needs extended discussion in the open, at least on the state level, and probably nationally.

Even in liberal states, this goes nowhere for a reason. How can you have the U.S. Supreme Court, as it did last year, affirm the individual as well as collective right of Americans to bear arms, but then have Albany County decide you can't have the ammo for your guaranteed gun? Granted, the court also affirmed the right of individual states to set reasonable rules and restrictions on the ownership of handguns, which was what the court decision was about. Changing unfettered long-gun ownership by the general citizenry was never even on the table in that discussion.

That's how far out of step this legislation is. It introduced by Legislator Phil Steck, a Colonie Democrat, and referred to the county Legislature's Law Committee.

Not surprisingly, the pro-gun folks, who tend to be a touch on the paranoid side anyway, went nuts when they got wind this law was being introduced. Although in this case, they are not overreacting at all.

"This was not intended to be revolutionary legislation," Steck told me. I hear your words, Phil, but this most certainly is revolutionary, and not in a happy way for hunters. Where is that Senator Gillibrand when you need her?

The effect of this law, in a tiny and ineffectual way, would be the backdoor registration of rifles and shotguns, an effort that has gotten no traction nationally, or anywhere else in New York. Albany County gun shops and ammo sellers will move to adjoining counties, and so will their customers. That's the only real effect it will have.

Steck told me the legislation was originally proposed for Albany Common Council adoption, and was aimed at the urban violence issue. But proponents of this radical legislation found there weren't enough ammo sellers in the city (that would be one) to make it worthwhile, so they came to him to try and pass it countywide. Bad move.

"The intent is to try and keep ammunition away from those stolen guns that wind up in the streets of Albany and other cities, and do so much harm. I know those guns come from other states, and not New York. But when they run out of ammo, they have to get it somewhere," Steck said.

Except, as Steck himself notes, New York has some of the tightest regulations in the country when it comes to handguns and the ammunition for them. It takes the same difficult-to-get handgun permit to buy the ammo, as to buy and use the gun. So that's already covered.

So what's the point? There are a few calibers that cross over, that are used in both long guns and handguns, and those conceivably might be sold now with fewer restrictions than handgun ammo. These include 9 mm and .44-caliber, and even the ubiquitous .22. The .22 is easily the most popular caliber in the world for both handguns and long guns. Yet there is no evidence from crime statistics that there is a need to restrict .22 sales.

This is not thoughtfully considered legislation from any direction. If passed, it would have no effect whatsoever on stopping street guns. If making the purchase of certain ammo tougher is the actual intent, then a state law, or better yet, a federal law, should be lobbied for. But a county law? That's ridiculous.
Phil Steck admitted as much in terms of its effect, and said that in the past, the intent of laws like this would be conveyed to the state Legislature as a nonbinding ''urging resolution'' rather than as an actual local law. But, said Steck, the current legislative leadership is discouraging urging resolutions.

Maybe so, but substituting bad law is not the answer.

Fred LeBrun can be reached at 454-5453 or by e-mail at

(Edit: added paragraph breaks)