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In wake of Buffalo shooting, Governor Kathy Hochul signs bills aimed at strengthening New York's gun laws

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New York Governor Kathy Hochul signed a 10-bill package Monday intended to strengthen the state's gun laws and protect people from gun violence by prohibiting the sale of semiautomatic weapons to those under 21 and banning most body armor sales for civilians. The bills come after a rash of mass shootings, including a racially motivated shooting that killed 10 in a Buffalo, New York, supermarket, have put increased pressure on politicians to consider bipartisan gun reform. 

"I am proud to sign a comprehensive bill package that prohibits the sale of semiautomatic weapons to people under 21, bans body armor sales outside of people in select professions, closes critical gun law loopholes and strengthens our Red Flag Law to keep guns away from dangerous people-new measures that I believe will save lives," Hochul said Monday. 

The bulk of the laws will go into effect in 30 days, while the new age for purchasing rifles will go into effect in 90 days. 

The bills also expand the eligibility for an Extreme Risk Protection Order petition, a court order that prevents someone who has been deemed a danger to themselves or others from purchasing new guns and seizes firearms currently in their possession. This is part of an effort to strengthen New York's pre-existing red flag laws, which are meant as deterrents to mass shootings and incidents of gun violence.

Under the new laws, police can now petition for emergency orders for threats to physicians. A mass shooting last week at a Tulsa, Oklahoma hospital left four dead, including the alleged gunman. Police said the gunman blamed his physician, Dr. Preston Phillips, for continued back pain after a procedure. 

Police are now required to file a petition as soon as they receive credible information about a threat, and the New York State Police and the Municipal Police Training Council will create new training policies to help officers identify situations where an order from a judge might be needed. Reports from mental health practitioners must now also be considered "closely" before a gun license can be issued. 

The efficacy of current red flag laws and their implementation have come into question following a recent string of mass shootings in the country. 

A CBS News report found that states that have red flag laws have "wide disparities in the frequency of red-flag orders and usage of the law." In New York, state court records show approximately 500 emergency orders issued a year, only slightly more in less-populous Maryland.

In the Buffalo Tops Supermarket shooting, police revealed that the alleged shooter made several threatening comments that brought police to his high school and sent him to a mental health hospital for a check-in. As officials have not released the full details of that visit, it is unclear whether the alleged shooter's comments could have triggered a red flag. 

"Buffalo was a textbook case. It was not the failure of the law. It was the failure of the implementation of the law," said John Feinblatt of Everytown for Gun Safety.    

More recently, a shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas left 2 adults and 19 children dead. 

According to an official from the Texas Department of Safety, the alleged 18-year-old shooter walked into Robb Elementary and fired at "children, teachers, whoever was in his way." He used an AR-style rifle that he purchased legally, according to law enforcement. 

Texas Governor Greg Abbott has repeatedly pushed back against blaming Texas' current gun laws, many of which he championed, as the reason behind the shooting, instead calling for an increase of focus on the nation's "mental health challenges." 

But family members of the victims have continued to urge both Abbott and other lawmakers to make reform their top priority. 

"While we are taking expedient action to enhance New York State's nation-leading gun laws, we recognize that gun violence is a nationwide problem," Hochul said. "I once again urge Congress to follow our lead and take immediate action to pass meaningful gun violence prevention measures. Lives depend on it."   

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