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New York may tweak gun law to accommodate filmmakers

New York may adjust its assault weapons ban to permit props used by filmmakers, but Gov. Cuomo says tough new gun controls will stand.

March 01, 2013|By Tina Susman, Los Angeles Times
  • New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo says legislators may tweak an assault weapons ban to accommodate films shot in the state, but he says he's not scaling back a tough new gun control law.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo says legislators may tweak an assault weapons… (Derek Gee, Buffalo News )

NEW YORK — The nation's toughest gun control law hasn't taken full effect, but New York state lawmakers are considering tweaking the restrictions, especially if the gun owners happen to be from Hollywood.

Exempting filmmakers from the assault weapon ban passed in January is a measure under consideration by legislators in the state capital, Albany. Another possible change that lawmakers say might be necessary: exempting law enforcement officials from the ban.

Speaking to reporters this week, Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo described the possible changes as "technical corrections," not the scaling back of a law that the National Rifle Assn. has denounced as "draconian."

Cuomo says about 70% of New Yorkers support the provisions of the Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement, or SAFE, Act, which was signed into law on Jan. 15. But when it comes to the TV and film industry, which pumps billions of dollars into the state, he said an allowance should be made that would reassure production companies concerned about the assault weapons ban.

"People want certainty, and there's no reason not to make a change like that, to give an industry comfort, especially when it's an industry that we want doing business in the state," said Cuomo, who added that he was not even sure this was an issue among filmmakers. That's because their weapons — even those that aren't replicas — are considered props because they fire blanks. (Blanks can kill, but such incidents are extremely rare, the most famous being the 1984 death of actor Jon-Erik Hexum, who fired into his own head at point-blank range.)

"So I don't believe the law covers it," Cuomo said. "But for a legal reason, if they want clarification, I think definitely we can consider it."

New York has drawn hundreds of TV and film productions with a 30% post-production tax credit on expenses incurred while filming in the state. The industry's love affair with New York is especially visible in New York City, where it's not unusual to see streets blocked to traffic and parking as film crews, stars' trailers and catering vans set up for shoots. Last month, the police warned of two consecutive days on which TV production companies would be setting off controlled explosions "with a fireball effect" in different parts of the city.

According to the Motion Picture Assn. of America, the film and TV industry is responsible for at least 91,608 direct jobs and $8.2 billion in wages in New York state. In New York City, it contributes more than $7 billion to the economy, using residential neighborhoods and studio sets to film everything from the blood-soaked "Boardwalk Empire" to the fluffy "Carrie Diaries."

There is no indication that anyone from the entertainment industry has expressed worries about the assault weapons ban. But the talk of tweaks that may or may not be necessary spotlight Albany's desire to seal all possible tears in the law as opponents vow to rip it to shreds.

About 5,000 people opposed to the law rallied in Albany on Thursday to demand that it be repealed. At least one lawmaker has proposed a bill that would do just that, though it is not expected to make much headway.

The ban's backers hope it will push lawmakers in Washington to take similar action, although the centerpiece of President Obama's initiative to reduce gun violence — a law requiring background checks for nearly all gun purchases, is struggling in Congress. New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg flew to Washington this week to try to help break the logjam and said Friday he was hopeful lawmakers could be persuaded to pass what he called "sensible gun laws."

"I don't know if I'd use the word 'optimistic,'" Bloomberg said during his weekly radio interview. "Let's say hopeful."

New York was the first state to bolster its gun laws after the Dec. 14 massacre of 20 first-graders and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. In addition to broadening the definition of an assault weapon to bring more firearms under the ban, the law limits magazines to seven rounds of ammunition, down from 10; enhances monitoring of ammunition sales; expands background checks for gun purchases; and requires gun licenses to be recertified every five years.

It also increases penalties for some gun-related crimes and requires the revocation or suspension of gun licenses held by people who are deemed a danger by mental health workers. The bill would require mental health workers to report such patients to authorities.

tina.susman@latimes.com

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