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North country gun sellers worry state gun-control restrictions will slow sales

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It’s a piece of legislation loaded with restrictions that some firearm sellers in the north country say feels like a shot in the back from Albany.

Gun sellers said Wednesday they are outraged at how the state Legislature quickly passed restrictions, signed into law by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Tuesday, in response to the December shooting massacre in Newtown, Conn. They say toughened restrictions will take a bite out of firearm and ammunition sales, and more required background checks could produce longer waits and discourage customers.

The legislation affects firearm sellers by banning a wider range of military-style weapons, requiring background checks for all ammunition purchases and limiting to seven the number of shells that may be used in magazines. While firearms may now continue to be sold with standard 10-round magazines, owners may load them with only a maximum of seven rounds.

The timeline for implementing these restrictions, however, has not yet been announced by the governor’s office. An associate at Gander Mountain at the Salmon Run Mall said the franchise is conducting business as usual and did not know when restrictions would be enacted.

On a busy Wednesday morning at VanTassel’s Gunsmithing on Route 37 in Evans Mills, eight hunters stood in line to make purchases. Dennis J. VanTassel has owned the shop with his wife, Mary A., for 30 years, and he called the legislation “the worst I’ve ever seen.” He removed all of the military-style AR-15 rifles, now illegal, from shelves before the store opened at 9 a.m. Wednesday. He said those rifles are banned because they have two military features, a pistol grip and a detachable magazine. Under the old law, the definition was a detachable magazine and two other features from a list of several. That has now been reduced to one from the list.

Rifles removed from shelves ranged in price from $950 to $1,500. Mr. VanTassel predicted his sales will be reduced by about 4 to 5 percent this year as a result.

“There’s no doubt there’s going to be a void in our sales,” said the 61-year-old, who participates in shooting competitions year-round. “Most people use these military-style rifles to hunt coyotes and varmints, where the target is moving and you have multiple shots. They’re only .22-caliber, but they look evil.”

Mr. VanTassel is also concerned about how requiring background checks for ammunition purchases could delay customer service at the shop. Excessive time spent on background checks could mean long lines during hunting season in the fall, when most hunters purchase bullets.

“It now takes someone about five minutes to buy a box of bullets, but it’s going to take 20 to 30 minutes with background checks,” he said. “If I have 50 customers in one day during hunting season, we won’t be able to serve them all.”

Mrs. VanTassel, who completes background checks at the store, said sales have increased significantly since December, when the gun control legislation was introduced. She said hunters filed into the store in droves after the governor made a speech Tuesday about the legislation.

“Yesterday was even busier than today, and I think we’re going to stay busy until the dust settles,” she said Wednesday while serving customers. The law “isn’t affecting my sales now but is going to.”

About 15 percent of the customers who make purchases at Panunzio’s Guns, 46559 Route 37, Hammond, are hunters passing through the town, owner Louis R. Panunzio said. Although he doesn’t sell military-style rifles, he’s concerned longer waiting times for background checks could deter those customers from making purchases.

“If a person from Binghamton stops in and sees a gun they like but you do a background check that is delayed three days, he isn’t going to come back to buy it,” said the 82-year-old, who runs the small shop by himself. “And can you imagine a fellow coming in for a box of .22 rifle shells and you have to do a background check? It’s more time consuming than what the box of .22 shells is worth. That puts a lot of work on us.”

Mr. Panunzio, a licensed firearms seller for 40 years, said most handguns sold at the store have magazines with 10 bullets, which he will continue to sell. Because of the new law, though, manufacturers in the state likely will begin producing handguns with seven-bullet magazines to comply with the regulation.

“Why should the state go against federal law and adopt seven-round handguns?” he asked.

Collins F. Kellogg Sr., owner of Collins Kellogg Guns, 10257 Resha Road, Croghan, agrees with several of the firearm restrictions passed to deter mentally unstable individuals from owning guns.

He agrees with the provision, for example, that requires handgun owners to renew their licenses every five years. As a matter of principle, the 79-year-old has never sold paramilitary weapons during the 40 years he’s owned the store.

But at the same time, he contended the legislation was passed in Albany without sufficient time for the public to review it.

“I’m a firm believer that something had to be done — that’s what I told my wife after the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School,” he said. “But I don’t know if they’ve overstepped what they’re doing a little bit. We’re slowly losing our liberties. Some of them should be lost, but maybe not to this extent.”

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