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Gun Enthusiasts Fight New York’s Silence

ALBANY, N.Y. (CN) - New York must release data connected to registration and enforcement of its new gun-control law, firearms advocates say in court.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the New York Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act of 2013, known as the NY SAFE Act, about a month after a lone gunman killed 26 children and staff in a December 2012 rampage at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

The law expanded New York's definition of banned assault weapons to semiautomatic pistols, rifles, and shotguns that have detachable magazines and military-style features. It also outlawed high-capacity magazines, limited who could sell ammunition, and authorized instant background checks on purchasers.

In addition to sparking a handful of state and federal lawsuits from Second Amendment enthusiasts, the law became a talking point in New York's gubernatorial campaign. Most prominently, Cuomo's Republican opponent in next month's election Rob Astorino has vowed to repeal the law if elected.

On Oct. 6, a trio of lawsuits filed in Albany County Supreme Court challenged the state's refusal to release data relating to the law under the Freedom of Information Law (FOIL). The actions name the governor, the New York Division of State Police and State Police Superintendent Joseph D'Amico as defendants.

Alleging a failure "to articulate or demonstrate any FOIL exemption," the complaints call for disclosure of the "assault weapons registry," the negotiations that led to passage of the SAFE Act, and details on a guide for enforcing the law prepared by the State Police.

The plaintiffs are advocates for gun owners' Second Amendment rights: Gun Owners of America, a nonprofit lobby in Springfield, Va.; Shooters Committee on Political Action, or SCOPE, based in Erie County with chapters statewide; and Bill Robinson of Monroe County, host of the syndicated "Second Amendment Radio Show."

They ask to have the three complaints heard together, although each has a different focus.

Robinson seeks statistics on registrations granted under the law for guns - including pistols, rifles and shotguns - "that may qualify as 'assault weapons,'" by county, ZIP code "or other geographic identifier."

He also wants to know how many registration applications were rejected because state or federal penal or mental-hygiene laws prohibit the applicant from possessing a firearm.

His complaint lists 15 records requests.

The Gun Owners of America, with Robinson also as a plaintiff, seeks information on the process that developed the NY SAFE Act, including negotiations between the governor and the State Police and between Cuomo and the state Legislature, which supported the fast-track passage of the law.

That complaint also asks for "all records of communication between Governor Cuomo and his staff with President Obama, Vice President Biden, or federal executive or agency staff pertaining to the NY SAFE Act." It lists 11 records requests.

The SCOPE complaint, with 33 requests for records, targets the "Guide to the New York SAFE Act for Members of the Division of State Police," prepared by agency lawyers and dated September 2013.

SCOPE wants information on "any and all databases to which the 'statewide database' will access for records checks," as referenced in the guide. It also seeks records relating to the training and qualifications of personnel operating the database.

Each of the three complaints presents the timeline under which the requests for information were made, rejected, appealed and rejected again. The time spans vary but extend from January to August.

Although the Gun Owners received a response to its FOIL request, the other two plaintiffs allegedly heard nothing - even after follow-up letters. The complaints from Robinson and SCOPE allege "constructive denial" of their requests.

Robinson notes in his complaint that the State Police have turned away other FOIL requests seeking data also. He points out, though, that New York's Committee on Open Government issued an advisory opinion Oct. 3 indicating that nothing in FOIL bars the release of "aggregate data" from the collected records.

The committee is a unit of the Department of State that oversees New York's Freedom of Information and Open Meetings laws.

In addition to the records requested, the complaints seek attorney's fees and court costs.

Paloma Capanna of Webster represents the plaintiffs.

Representatives of the governor's office and the State Police declined comment on the complaints.

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