Andrew Cuomo

A guide to New York’s gun regulations

New York has a number of restrictions on purchasing guns, and they were tightened with the 2013 SAFE Act.


Guns DmyTo/Shutterstock

Gun control has been at the forefront of the conversation since the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, left 17 dead last month. In New York, state Senate Democrats introduced a package of gun control measures, but Republicans blocked their attempt to force a vote on the bills, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo seems unwilling to lend any political muscle. The state already has some of the most stringent firearm regulations in the country, thanks to the passage of the SAFE Act in 2013 after the shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut.

In light of the current imbroglio over guns on the national and local level, here is a guide to the current restrictions in place for purchasing a firearm in New York state.

What are the requirements for buying a gun?

Under federal law, a person must be 18 years old to purchase a long gun, which is a shotgun or a rifle, and 21 years old to purchase a handgun. In New York state, excluding New York City, a license is required to purchase a handgun, which is a pistol or a revolver, but a license is not needed for purchasing a shotgun or a rifle. The person also must be “of good character,” according to New York State Penal Law.

In order to be eligible for a firearms license in New York, a person needs to be 21 years old, a resident of the state and have no prior felony or serious offense convictions.

A license is required to possess a handgun in New York City, and a permit is needed for a shotgun or a rifle. Permits and licenses are dispensed by the NYPD License Division. In order to travel to New York City from elsewhere in the state and carry a firearm, a person needs an additional license granted by the New York City police commissioner.

Any person with a handgun license or a registered assault weapon in the state must recertify every five years through the local county government.

The 2013 SAFE Act tightened the rules by implementing universal background checks. When a person purchases a gun from a licensed firearms dealer, he or she must pass a federal background check through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System at the point of sale. The SAFE Act extended the NICS background check to private sales as well, unless the sale or transfer is between immediate family members.

The NICS has recently become a focus at the national level. After the Parkland shooting, a bipartisan bill was introduced in the U.S. Senate which would improve reporting to NICS. The House recently passed this “Fix NICS” provision as part of the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act, which would allow people with concealed carry permits in other states to carry their weapons into New York. New York Rep. Peter King is a sponsor of a Fix NICS bill in the House, but many Democrats believe such a bill would not go far enough.

In New York, the SAFE Act also made it more difficult for mentally ill people to obtain guns, by requiring mental health professionals to report to local mental health officials if patients are likely to harm themselves or others. These concerns can be reported to the state Division of Criminal Justice Services, which can “disqualify” people from having a permit or possessing firearms.

What kinds of guns can be purchased?

The SAFE Act implemented a stricter definition of assault weapons and an immediate ban on those weapons. If a person already owned such a weapon before the SAFE Act was passed, he or she needed to register that weapon by April 2014, modify its characteristics to make it no longer an assault weapon, or sell it to an out-of-state dealer.

A handgun is considered an assault weapon if it is semiautomatic, and has a military feature such as a telescoping stock, a second handgrip or a barrel capable of accepting a silencer. A rifle is considered an assault weapon if it is semiautomatic and capable of receiving detachable magazines, and has a military characteristic such as a protruding pistol grip or a bayonet mount. A shotgun is considered an assault weapon if it is semiautomatic, and has a military characteristic such as a telescoping stock or a fixed magazine capacity of more than seven rounds. Most handguns and most shotguns or rifles used for hunting are not assault weapons.

Firearms that were considered assault weapons under New York’s penal code prior to the passage of the SAFE Act are also prohibited.

Are New Yorkers allowed to buy bump stocks?

Yes, but you can’t use them. A bump stock – which was used in last year’s deadly Las Vegas shooting – modifies a weapon to simulate a machine gun, and machine guns are illegal in the state. As soon as a bump stock is attached to a firearm, it becomes illegal. But they can be bought and sold in the state without undergoing a background check.