The GuardianNew York assault weapons ban circumvented with simple modification
The Safe Act was billed as the nation's toughest, but a surprisingly easy loophole makes the weapons legal to sell
Mae Ryan in Rochester, New York and Adam Gabbatt
theguardian.com, Tuesday 1 April 2014 08.58 EDT
One month after the Newtown school shootings, the governor of New York state, Andrew Cuomo, signed into law a ban on the sale of assault weapons, hailing it the "nation's toughest".
The Safe Act, signed in January 2013, introduced stricter background checks while banning high-capacity magazines and so-called assault weapons like the AR-15-style gun Adam Lanza used to kill 27 people in Newtown in December 2012.
But while pro-gun campaigners continue to argue that the law is too strict – and are due to protest outside New York's statehouse in Albany on Tuesday – gunmakers, gun shops and gun owners have found a remarkably simple way to make their assault weapons legal.
As well as banning the sale of assault weapons in New York state, the Safe Act required all those who already own such a weapon to register them with the state by 15 April 2014. The law also introduced a stricter definition of assault weapon: a semi-automatic rifle that takes a detachable magazine and has one of 10 features, such as a "bayonet mount" and a "grenade launcher" but also a "protruding pistol grip".
But many gun shops in New York are offering to replace the grip on a banned weapon to make it compliant with the law. The modified gun still fires at the same rate and with the same power; the shooter just holds it slightly differently. These modified weapons do not have to be registered with the state.
Just Right Carbines, a gun manufacturer in Rochester, has gone one step further. It builds modified semi-automatic rifles specifically for the New York market – and specifically to comply with the New York gun law. The general manager, Anthony Testa, says the company has had verbal assurances from New York authorities that the guns are legal for sale.
State police told the Guardian it "cannot release" information about how many people had registered assault weapons in New York. A spokesman said as long as the modifications are permanent, owners do not need to register.
Mae Ryan travelled to Rochester to see how people and companies are dealing with the law.