Gun control bill targeting ‘extreme risks’ advances in state Senate

New York state Senate Democrats hold a press conference on a gun control bill.
New York state Senate Democrats hold a press conference on a gun control bill.
Jeff Coltin
New York state Senate Democrats hold a press conference on a gun control bill.

Gun control bill targeting ‘extreme risks’ advances in state Senate

Lawmakers battle over Second Amendment rights and limits in committee meeting.
May 22, 2018

It took a public grilling in a hot conference room, but a gun control bill got one step closer to a full state Senate vote.

State Sen. Brian Kavanagh forced a vote on S1733a at the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Tuesday. The bill would allow judges to issue temporary orders prohibiting someone from buying or possessing a gun. Gun control and gun safety advocates nationwide have jumped on such extreme risk protection orders, or ERPOs, as a way to prevent people who are “extreme risks” of committing violence from having guns.

“Lives are literally on the line,” Kavanagh said at a press conference ahead of the meeting. “We need to do it now.”

But “now” couldn’t happen before a debate. State Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman John Bonacic peppered Kavanagh with questions, making the Manhattan Democrat defend his bill from every angle. What if the person deemed to be an extreme risk lives with somebody else with a gun? Could this order be weaponized in divorce proceedings? If somebody is wrongfully deemed a risk, could they sue the person who reported them “for putting this person through hell?”

Kavanagh said he “wouldn’t characterize it as hell. I would characterize it as a reasonable judicial proceeding … that may well be initiated for the safety of the respondent.”

But in a hot conference room on the first floor of the state Capitol, the Hudson Valley Republican grilled Kavanagh for more than 30 minutes, nearly uninterrupted by the other seven senators. Aides and activists lined the walls of the room, some in the red shirts of Moms Demand Action, others in the orange of New Yorkers Against Gun Violence.

Amid the questioning, it became clear the debate was about more than just Kavanagh’s bill. It was about the national debate over school shootings and how lawmakers should be responding.

“It sounds that (the bill) has some merit, but bottom line, it’s a backdoor way of attacking the Second Amendment,” Bonacic said.

The chairman also argued that Democrats favored gun control more than school safety and criticized for not showing more support for the Republican majority’s school safety package, which passed in March.

“If there was more bipartisan support when it came to children’s safety, maybe people would think differently,” Bonacic said. “But they think everything that’s done here is for political purposes and reelection.”

But by the end of the meeting, Kavanagh had won over lawmakers of both parties, and the bill passed committee, 19-3. Bonacic was one of the “no” votes.

The ERPO bill is still far from becoming law – Tuesday’s committee vote merely passed it on to the Codes Committee – but Kavanagh was optimistic.

A companion bill has passed the Democratic-led Assembly the past two years, with Republican support.

“I’m very optimistic that we’re going to pass this bill before we adjourn the regular session,” Kavanagh said.

Jeff Coltin
is a senior reporter at City & State. He covers New York City Hall.