Gun Bill a No-Show at New York Legislature, New Special Session Convened
ALBANY, N.Y. — New York lawmakers’ plans to cast votes on concealed carry gun legislation Thursday were delayed for hours by surprise negotiations on the extension of mayoral control of public education and an amendment to the state constitution to protect abortion rights.
When Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul announced this week that she would be calling the legislature back to Albany for a special session, the stated reason for doing so was to pass a package of 10 bills that all dealt with restrictions on guns. Hochul outlined these initiatives publicly with provisions that included:
- Expansion of the state “red flag” law to ensure the consideration of mental health practitioners’ reports when purchasing a firearm.
- Raising the minimum age to purchase a semiautomatic rifle to 21.
- Adding requirements for enhanced reporting by law enforcement to the state and federal gun databases.
- Expanding the definition of a firearm under the state penal code.
- Banning the purchasing of body armor except for “eligible professions” like law enforcement.
- Requiring the Division of Criminal Justice Services to either certify or decline to certify that microstamping-enabled pistols are “technologically viable.”
- Requiring social media networks in New York to establish policies on how “incidents of hateful conduct” are responded to on their platform.
These changes to state gun law were proposed after the Supreme Court ruled last week that New York’s law regulating the carrying of handguns was unconstitutional. In Hochul’s announcement of the extraordinary session, she said the measures were being brought up for business to prevent instances of tragedy like the ones that occurred in Buffalo, New York, and Uvalde, Texas, in May.
When the session convened at 12 p.m. local time on Thursday, it was expected that these new gun law restrictions would be the primary focus of the debate and negotiations. Votes were expected to be cast first in the afternoon, then in the evening as the day progressed and lawmakers held ad hoc press conferences with reporters to explain what was happening.
Suddenly, the story in Albany became what the lawmakers weren’t doing, which was voting on the gun bills touted by Hochul.
Thursday came and went without so much as the text of the bills being introduced, and confusion swirled over what was going on at the state Capitol building. Later in the evening, State Sen. John Liu, D-Queens, told reporters that Hochul wanted the addition of chapter amendments to a mayoral control bill over the public school system passed at the beginning of June, meaning that the gun bill that brought them there had not progressed.
Rep. Lee Zeldin, R-Long Island, Hochul’s Republican gubernatorial opponent in November, implored the governor in a statement to extend Adams’ control over New York City’s public schools before it expired at the end of the day.
“Blocking mayoral control over NYC Public Schools will create even more uncertainty over the quality of education in NYC public schools and greatly affect students and families,” Zeldin said. “Kathy Hochul shouldn’t be playing political games with our children’s education in an effort to inflate her ego and power and she must immediately extend mayoral control of NYC.”
Legislation to cap class sizes in New York City was tied to mayoral control during negotiations in June, The Well News reported at the time, but Hochul’s sudden change of heart meant that the newly established Panel for Educational Policy would be expanded from 15 to 23 members and become operational on Jan. 15, according to reports. The new agreements contained major concessions that had been sought by New York Mayor Eric Adams, extending his control over New York City public schools for another two-year period.
Then the legislature’s focus again shifted to passing the “equality amendment” to the state constitution, guaranteeing protections for abortion rights in the state.
“Among state legislatures generally, being distracted by other shiny objects is not very surprising,” Jim Battista, associate professor in the University at Buffalo’s Department of Political Science, told The Well News. “Especially not when previously-planned business is competing with earth-shaking events like Dobbs.”
Negotiations on the mayoral control alterations and equality amendment were not live-streamed on the senate or assembly’s website, even though both chambers gaveled in and stood “at ease” for all of Thursday. On Friday morning, the session expired and adjourned sine die and a new proclamation by Hochul convened a second extraordinary session to pass the abortion rights resolution and the aforementioned package of gun bills promised the day before.
With mayoral control out of the way, lawmakers are poised to take up and vote on gun restrictions and abortion protections. Despite the delays, Battista told The Well News the situation isn’t likely to significantly shake up voter perception of the incumbents in November.
“If there’s an effect on this, it might be a reduction in [Assembly Speaker Carl] Heastie’s reputation for running the assembly among the commentariat class,” Battista said. “This matters insofar as it affects the tone and emphasis of coverage going into September and October, which voters might actually remember.”
Also on Thursday, Attorney General Letitia James filed a lawsuit against multiple gun distributors for allegedly selling thousands of unfinished firearm frames and receivers that were converted into unserialized handguns and “assault-style weapons” in violation of New York’s licensing laws. In April, The Well News reported that the White House had announced new regulations in an effort to crack down on the selling and purchasing of “ghost gun” kits in the country that can be used to assemble firearms without having to submit to background checks.
James’ efforts to curb the spread of ghost guns complement the legislature’s efforts to crack down on the concealed carrying of firearms in the state. James, like Hochul, is up for reelection in November and will face New York-based Republican attorney Michael Henry.
“We will enact legislation to strengthen our laws on concealed carry weapons, and building on our nation-leading protections for abortion patients and providers, New York State will take an unprecedented step toward enshrining the fundamental right to abortion access into our State Constitution,” Hochul said in a written statement accounting the second extraordinary session on Friday. “Let me be clear: We will do everything in our power to protect New Yorkers.”