Early this morning the New York State Senate approved a bill exempting retired law enforcement officers from a new seven-round limit on the number of rounds people are allowed to have in their guns. The exemption had already been approved by the New York State Assembly, so now it goes to Gov. Andrew Cuomo's desk for his signature. An earlier amendment to New York's SAFE Act, the package of gun controls that Cuomo pushed through the legislature in January, clarified that the seven-round limit did not apply to active-duty police officers, so this new exception cannot be defended even based on the argument that cops, given their line of work, are more likely than the average citizen to need those extra rounds. The amendment is simply about elevating one class of citizens above another, which is especially objectionable in this context because supporters of the exemption argue that the difference between seven rounds and 10 rounds can be the difference between life and death. Retired cops—who number about 200,000, 1 percent of New York's population—want to make sure their capacity for self-defense exceeds that of their fellow citizens, even though by their own account people may die for want of that advantage.
Worse, defenders of the exemptions concede that the seven-round limit won't have any impact on crime. Here is how Norman Seabrook, president of the New York City Correction Officers' Benevolent Association, put it in January:
As a law enforcement officer for over 20 years, I understand the importance of instituting a new policy on mandating the limits of bullets that a regular citizen can possess, but as a matter of fact the bad guys are not going to follow this law….The way the current legislation is drafted, it actually handcuffs the law enforcement community from having the necessary ammunition needed to save lives. We must not allow this to happen.
In other words, since criminals will ignore the seven-round rule, it would be reckless to make "the law enforcement community" follow it. But you regular citizens are on your own.
Still worse, the legislators pushing hardest to exempt retired cops are themselves retired cops. The sponsor of the bill approved this morning was Sen. Martin Golden (R-Brooklyn), a former NYPD officer. Golden (above right) told his fellow legislators that ex-cops like him are "not a separate class of people…but they are an experienced class of people….They know how to deal with the criminal element, so if anybody deserves to have a 10-round magazine [we do]." Another leading advocate of the law enforcement exemptions is Sen. Eric Adams (D-Brooklyn), a retired NYPD captain (above left) who explains that "you can't give more ammo to the criminals." These guys literally voted to put themselves above the law, unashamedly demanding a double standard that sends a clear message to their fellow New Yorkers: Our lives are worth more than yours.
If there is one consolation amid this disgusting diplay of entitlement and indifference, it is that New York's already absurd magazine limit has become even more farcical since it was enacted. The same legislative haste that produced a SAFE Act without cop exemptions also produced a rule that was unenforceable because it mandated seven-round magazines that do not exist. (It turns out that legislators can miss important details like that when they don't have time to read the bill they're passing because the governor has declared a state of urgency.) Cuomo's solution: change the original ban on the sale of 10-round magazines into a requirement that when gun owners load those magazines they stop at seven rounds. I shit you not. In case you'd rather not delve into the statutory details, the website that the governor's office created to inform the public about the SAFE Act lays it out clearly in Q&A format:
Q: Can I continue to buy 10 round magazines?
A: Yes, the SAFE Act does not affect your ability to continue to buy 10 round magazines.
Q: How many rounds can I put in my magazine?
A: While at a recognized range, whether you are there for recreation or for participating in shooting competitions, you may load the full ten rounds into any magazine you have. Starting on April 15, 2013, you are limited to putting 7 rounds in the magazine in all other locations.
That's right: New York's ban on 10-round magazines does not ban 10-round magazines. Just make sure to stop at seven rounds, OK? Especially if you're a criminal.
While enforcing this rule in any systematic way is clearly impossible, it remains true that an otherwise law-abiding gun owner caught with with eight, nine, or 10 rounds in his magazine can be charged with a Class B misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in jail and a $200 fine. Subsequent offenses are Class A misdemeanors, which can earn you a year in jail and a $1,000 fine. The penalties are lighter for guns kept at home: A first offense is a violation punishable by a $200 fine, while subsequent offenses are Class B misdemeanors.
The risk of such charges may be pretty small in general, but not for someone who actually uses a gun with a forbidden number of rounds in self-defense. Martin Golden and Eric Adams understandably do not want to chance it, and why should they have to follow the same stupid rule they are imposing on everyone else?