Museums, Re-Enactors Set to Battle Antique Gun Regulations

SYRACUSE, N.Y.— Military re-enactors and museum officials are taking potshots at a New York City lawmaker’s plan to regulate antique firearms. If approved, the plan could have severe economic repercussions for museums and historical societies in the state and put an end to living history events and re-enactments.    If passed in its current form, the proposal by Democratic Assemblyman Michael Gianaris of Queens would make the state the first in the country to require owners of antique guns, black powder weapons and muzzleloading firearms to go through a background check and purchase a license, said Ralph Walker, a legislative specialist with the National Muzzle Loading Rifle Association.

    “There is great opposition to the bill in its current form because it doesn’t recognize the circumstances of museums and re-enactment groups who own and use these firearms for educational purposes,” Anne Ackerson, director of the Museum Association of New York, which represents 260 museums and heritage organizations across New York told the Associated Press.

    Currently, antique firearms are exempt from regulation under New York law.

    However, Gianaris’ plan would regulate them like handguns without exemptions for historic sites, museums, living history events, reenactments, educational programs or purposes, or interpretative events.

    Handgun laws in New York can vary from county to county, but generally they require a person to supply detailed personal information, a photograph and fingerprints that are then run through a federal background check. Handgun licenses typically cost $10 or less, although in New York City and Nassau County they cost $50. In addition to the cost of the licensing, it can take up to six months to obtain a handgun license.

    “The cost of a license is nominal, but for museums and local historical societies that have large collections, those costs can quickly add up,” Ackerson said. “And there are hundreds of small community historical societies with collections and for many the cost could be quite burdensome.”

    Many feat that  such requirements could force some institutions to break up their collections, causing catastrophic damage to the history and heritage of the state. Others, often operating on constrained budgets, would have to spend scarce funds licensing their collections.

    Requiring re-enactors to obtain gun licenses would have a devastating impact, said Barbara O’Keefe, president of The Fort La Presentation Association in Ogdensburg. Fort LaPresentation attracts more than 200 living historians and thousands of visitors for its annual Founders Day in July, a weekend event that generates about $250,000 in economic activity for the community, she said.

    “If this bill were to become law, it would be impossible for us to continue our events,” O’Keefe said, adding that discontinuation of re-enactments would also jeopardize the association’s finances and plans to improve and further develop its historic site.

    Many New York residents question how much protection the proposed regulations would really afford the public, noting that black powder and muzzleloading firearms have limited range, limited penetrating capability, are relatively inaccurate and very slow firing.

    Gianaris said after hearing the concerns of museum officials and re-enactors he expected to amend his proposal to remove the licensing requirements or make registration less onerous.

    “It was not our intent to harm these groups,” said Gianaris. “The idea was we wanted to make sure these weapons _ because they can be used to inflict harm _ at least have a waiting period and background check associated with them. That still ensures that people with mental illness or criminal records don’t have access to these weapons.”

    The lawmaker said he determined such guns needed regulating following two incidents last year.

    One incident involved a student at St. John’s University with a history of psychological illness who was apprehended on campus while in possession of a loaded black powder rifle. In the second incident, a convicted felon shot and wounded a New York state trooper with a black powder rifle.

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