Background checks for ammo purchases bad news for St. Lawrence County gun shops
Sunday, January 26, 2014 - 8:05 am

By JIMMY LAWTON

Local gun shop owners say new state-mandated ammunition background checks will hurt business, but just how much damage they will cause is hard to guess.

That’s because the state has failed to reveal how or when the proposal will be implemented.

Joe Russell owns Hilltop Hunting, a gun shop in Canton that has operated for 34 years. He says the entire SAFE Act is frustrating and detrimental to his business, but the background checks for bullets are among the worst of its provisions.

Russell said he can’t prepare for ammunition background checks because he doesn’t know when the law will be enforced or how the procedure will be handled.”

“Since (Gov.) Cuomo started fooling around with the SAFE Act, not one shop owner has received anything from his office or state lawmakers outlining how this is going to be implemented,” he said. “It basically means we are supposed to run a business by watching the evening news.”

Russell said the entire law has caused nothing but problems for small shop owners and the background checks are going to cut into his profits.

Since the 1990s, shop owners have had to run background checks on anyone who purchases a gun.

Rick Jones, who runs North Wood Outfitters in Potsdam, said that process takes around 20 minutes and requires a phone call to the state.

“How long it takes depends on if it’s accepted or denied, or if there is a wait on it,” he said. “If there is a wait it can take a lot longer.”

Russell said the problem is worse during the peak sales season. During the recent holidays, he said the process often took an hour or longer for each transaction.

“Sometimes you couldn’t even get through at all,” he said.

Since shops sell far fewer guns than boxes of ammunition, Jones said even a 20-minute wait will consume huge amounts of time, and in business that means money too.

“It’s just not realistic,” he said.

Russell agreed that a wait similar in length to the checks used for gun purchases would not work.

“It is not viable, period. The average dealer is going to make $3 to $4 a box on ammunition. We can’t be on the phone for 20 minutes to facilitate one transaction,” he said. “It’s going to hurt business throughout the entire state.”

Russell said the SAFE Act has already forced gun manufacturers out of the state.

Russell and Jones agreed that the lack of details makes things tricky. They don’t know if it will require additional staff or new equipment, which makes budgeting impossible. Neither owner expects any help from the state in funding the new mandates they are imposing.

“When was the last time you saw a politician help a small business owner?” Russell asked.

Jones said one provision of the SAFE Acts mandates that gun sales between individuals include background checks. He said shops like his are can facilitate the backgrounds, but can only charge $10.

“Like most other gun shops we refuse to do them. It’s a slap in the face,” he said.

Jones said he is hopeful the state will change course parts if not all aspects of the SAFE Act, or that they will be shot down in federal courts.

“We are hoping people will come to their sense and the courts throw it all out. There is no reason for it. It’s unnecessary and it doesn’t do any real good,” he said.

Russell said he thinks the entire law is unwarranted and will hurt New York’s economy.

He said the law was passed without any real thought behind who it would hurt and who it would help.

“It was about the epitome of stupid,” he said. “I think someone had to lay awake at night and think what is the stupidest law I can come up with that will hurt the economy the most and that’s how we got the SAFE Act.”

Assemblywoman Addie J. Russell, who represents northern parts of St. Lawrence County, is the only St. Lawrence County representative who voted in favor of the SAFE Act.

She said she wants to ensure the background checks for ammunition are launched in way that won’t hurt businesses, but did not explain how the process might work.

“It’s not in place yet. We are concerned about the time and costs associated with the checks. We want to make sure that when a system is created, the checks will be timely and will not significantly hinder business.

To date, no time frame has been given as to when the regulations, originally planned for Jan. 15, will be enforced.