Republicans, Democrats clash over impact for those carrying guns on park’s public lands
By Gwendolyn Craig
In the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling that New York’s concealed carry law was unconstitutional, Gov. Kathy Hochul and state lawmakers passed new firearm legislation in a special session last week that has Democrats and Republicans at odds over how it will impact Adirondack Park residents.
The firearms legislation Hochul signed July 1 makes it a felony to possess a firearm, rifle or shotgun in a sensitive location. A sensitive location, according to the bill text, includes public parks, schools, places of worship and any businesses serving alcohol, to name a few. The new law, set to take effect Sept. 1, does not apply to “persons lawfully engaged in hunting activity including hunter education training,” and does not apply to law enforcement. There are some other exceptions outlined in Assembly bill A41001.
Republican lawmakers including U.S. Congresswoman Elise Stefanik, R-Schuylerville, and state Sen. Dan Stec, R-Queensbury, say “public parks” include the public and private 6-million-acre Adirondack Park. They slammed the legislation this week, saying it has ostracized the 130,000 people living in the Adirondacks.
“This is classic Albany Democrat behavior,” Stec said in a statement. “Because of this rushed, politically motivated law, thousands of men and women in our region could now be considered criminals.”
Stefanik called the legislation unconstitutional and “a direct attack on the law-abiding and patriotic citizens of the North Country and the Adirondack Park.”
Democrats, including Hochul, say that’s not the case.
The Adirondack Park is made up of 2.6 million acres of state-owned lands and about 3.4 million acres of private lands. State-owned lands in the Adirondacks and Catskills are called forest preserve and are protected under the state Constitution. New York’s state parks are managed separately. The new firearms legislation does not reference forest preserve.
Jim Urso, spokesperson for Hochul, said the law “changes nothing for lawful gun owners” on either forest preserve or private lands of the Adirondacks and Catskills. “These areas are not considered ‘sensitive locations’ under the law,” Urso said. “However there will be sensitive locations within these areas, like playgrounds and hospitals, consistent with locations outlined in the law for every other part of the state.”
“The Republican Party now openly embraces lies and misconceptions. This new legislation, reacting to an extremist Supreme Court, simply deals with the concealed and carry law,” said Mike Murphy, communications director of the state Senate Democratic majority, pointing to the exceptions for hunting in the law.
The office of State Sen. Liz Krueger, D-New York City and chair of the Senate Finance Committee, said the bill is not as broad as Stefanik and others are making it seem.
“Our reading of the bill is that it only bans concealed carry in the areas of the Adirondack Park that are used for public recreation,” a spokesperson for Krueger said. “If someone lives within the Park and they keep a gun in their home or place of business that they are otherwise legally permitted to possess, they will not run afoul of this statute.”
Hochul has charged state police and the state Department of Environmental Conservation to issue guidance. Environmental conservation officers received some of that legal guidance earlier this week, said Matt Krug, a conservation officer and representative with the New York Police Benevolent Association.
Giving hunting a shot
Diversity among the Adirondack hunting community is growing and may increase in the next generation if the counties within the Blue Line follow projected trends.
Krug said hunters will need to be extra careful under the new law that they are not trespassing, or they could be charged with a felony. If they are hunting on private lands, the lands must be posted with signs that say the owner allows firearms. Krug said those with year-round hunting licenses may still carry firearms on some public lands if they are hunting unprotected species such as red squirrels, porcupines and woodchucks. He also warned that hunters stopping for gas or food will have to lock up their unloaded firearm and keep it separated from ammunition.
Krug was skeptical that the law would see much enforcement in the Adirondacks considering staff numbers. Over the Fourth of July weekend, Krug said he and one other officer covered 4,000 square-miles in Washington, Warren and southern Essex counties.
“We are understaffed so the chances of them being caught is very little,” Krug said.
Krug said there were many gray areas and serious concerns with the law, and he expected legal challenges in the near future.
“We deal with more armed law-abiding citizens than any other agency, and mostly without incident,” Krug said. “Some of it is very confusing. It’s going to be very hard for the vast majority of the law-abiding public. … Conservation officers will be using a large amount of discretion when enforcing these laws.”