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Articles Posted in WEAPONS OFFENSES

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As New York’s premier second amendment lawyers we closely monitor cases that may affect the ability of our client’s to lawfully be in possession of firearms and cases that affect our ability to fight gun charges.  Late last year, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a New York gun possession case discussing the concept of constructive possession. Constructive possession is a legal fiction by which a person can be found to have “possessed” an item without there being any direct evidence that the item was in the defendant’s immediate control. The concept of constructive possession often relies on circumstantial evidence suggesting that the defendant possessed an item. This opinion is a good example of how the concept of constructive possession works in practice.

According to the court’s opinion, law enforcement pulled over the defendant for a traffic stop. During the stop, the defendant fled the scene, speeding off around a corner that led down a dead-end street. The sheriff’s deputy knew that the defendant had gone down a dead-end road that had a fence on one side and a wooded area on the other. The deputy waited for the defendant to reemerge.

About a minute later, the defendant’s car reemerged but got stuck in a ditch. The defendant was arrested and the deputy searched the area around the one-way street, finding a gun in the wooded area and a hat alongside the road. The gun was about 12-16 feet from the road. DNA samples from both the gun and the hat matched the defendant’s DNA. A jury convicted the defendant, who appealed his conviction. Specifically, the defendant argued that the evidence was insufficient to prove that he possessed the weapon.

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Under the Armed Career Criminals Act (ACCA), federal law provides for enhanced penalties for people convicted of a crime involving a firearm if they have previously been convicted of several “violent felonies.” New York has similar laws that enhance penalties for persistent violent felony offenders and discretionary persistent felony offenders.  Recently, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear a case in which the court will be required to explain what constitutes a “violent felony” under the ACCA. The case is important to New York criminal defendants because it will define what counts as a predicate offense under the ACCA, which could have significant repercussions for a person’s sentence.

The case involves a defendant who was convicted for possession of ammunition. At sentencing, the prosecution presented evidence that the defendant had previously been convicted of five offenses:  a 1974 robbery, a 1982 robbery, a 1983 attempted burglary, a 1986 burglary, and a 1994 robbery. The prosecution argued that each of the previous offenses qualified as violent felonies under the ACCA, and it sought a mandatory sentence on the current case of at least 15 years. If the defendant did not have three qualifying offenses, the maximum sentence that he could receive would have been 10 years. However, the trial court agreed with the prosecution, sentencing the defendant to 15 years.

After the U.S. Supreme Court held that part of the ACCA was unconstitutional, the defendant filed a petition, claiming that several of his previous convictions no longer qualified as “violent felonies.” The prosecution agreed that the 1983 conviction for attempted burglary was no longer a qualifying offense, but it argued that the remaining convictions still qualified under the ACCA. The court disagreed, finding that only two of the defendant’s robbery convictions qualified, and it sentenced him to 88 months.

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In October 2019 we published a Blog which posed the question, “Is the NFA dead?  In the article we discussed several types of short barreled weapons which had been reviewed by the ATF and other law enforcement agencies and had been found to not be covered by the National Firearms Act.  In September 2017 we reported in an article about the Mossberg Shockwave and related firearms that such weapons were legal to purchase and own in New York despite the fourteen inch barrel.  However, in our article in October 2019, we discussed the Franklin Armory Reformation line of firearms which at that time were considered to be legal to own and purchase based upon an ATF determination that the firearms were not considered short barreled rifles or shotguns under the National Firearms Act.  However, today, the ATF issued new guidance.

In an “Open Letter” dated December 19, 2019, the Acting Assistant Director of the BATFE for Enforcement, Programs and Services, the ATF determined that Reformation firearms with barrels less than 18 inches are “Short-Barreled Shotguns” under the Gun Control Act, not the National Firearms Act.  It therefore appears that it is difficult to transport or transfer any Reformation firearm with a barrel length less than 18 inches.  According to the BATFE letter, this is the first firearm ever produced that the BATFE has classified as a Gun Control Act Short Barreled Shotgun.  This is notwithstanding the fact that the Reformation does not accept or shoot shotgun shells.

To refresh everyone’s recollection, the Franklin Armory Reformation line includes firearms with a full stock and short barrels but unlike traditional rifles have the lands and grooves cut straight, front to back.  A traditional rifle has the lands and grooves cut in a twisted pattern to impart a spin on the bullet as it travels through and leaves the barrel.  Since the Reformation does not have “rifling” it could not be considered a rifle and therefore was not subject to the provisions of the NFA that pertain to rifles.  In addition, because the barrel of the Reformation is not smooth and since it does not accept shotgun shells, it similarly cannot be considered a shotgun and therefore the provisions of the NFA pertaining to short-barreled shotguns also do not apply.

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The National Firearm Act of 1934 (commonly known as the “NFA”) was the first federal gun control act and for the first time created a national registry of purchasers of “Machine guns”, “sawed-off shotguns” and “silencers”.  In addition, a $200 tax is imposed on each transfer of any NFA item and waiting periods can be long.

However, with the recent introduction of innovative new guns and technology that seem to have effectively circumvented the NFA, is the NFA still a useful law?

More than two years ago, we wrote about a new and innovative “shotgun” that has since taken the forearms world by storm.  Originally introduced as the Mossberg Shockwave and then the Remington Tac-14, these shotguns came with a standard 14 inch barrel and an overall length of just over 26 inches.  The Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms (BATF) had examined samples of these firearms and determined that these were legal under the NFA for reasons discussed at greater length in our article about these firearms.

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As gun rights lawyers we try to keep the public updated on significant changes to New York gun laws.  Several new laws are going into effect in New York and gun owners need to be aware.

First, a new gun storage law was passed which makes it a misdemeanor for a gun owner that lives with children under 16 to leave the gun unlocked.  The measure amends penal law section 265.45 and leaving a gun unlocked when children live in the home is a class “A” misdemeanor punishable by up to 1 year in jail.  In addition, a new penal law section was added 265.50 which makes it a violation, punishable by 15 days in jail to leave a gun unlocked even if there are no children in the home.

Both of these safe storage laws are likely to be challenged and struck down because the United States Supreme Court has made it clear that the Second Amendment protects the right of a person to have a gun for self-defense.   By requiring that guns in your home be locked, the government is specifically preventing you from having an accessible gun for self defense.

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Guns, ammunition and magazines that were suppressed by the Judge

New York, Second Amendment attorney and NRA  Firearms instructor Peter Tilem scored a major victory in Rockland County Court earlier today, when the Judge holding a suppression hearing ruled that there was no probable cause for the arrest of his client and ordered 13 guns, hundreds of rounds of ammunition, and high capacity magazines, called “high capacity ammunition feeding devices” suppressed, meaning that they could not be used as evidence at trial because of the fact that they were illegally seized.  The decision came after an intense suppression hearing in Rockland County Court where two senior police officers testified about the circumstances surrounding the arrest and interrogation of both individuals charged in a 12 count indictment.

Following reports of shots fired on July 8, 2018, in the area of the New York – New Jersey border in Rockland County, police from both New Jersey and New York police departments located three individuals firing weapons which were lawfully purchased and possessed in New Jersey.  The handguns were unlicensed in New York and the individuals were found less than a 1/4 mile over the border in New York.  In addition, some of the weapons which were lawful in New Jersey violated New York’s “Safe Act” and magazines that were legal in New Jersey violated New York’s ban on magazines capable of accepting more than 10 rounds of ammunition.

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New York has one of the most draconian and burdensome knife laws in the Country and as we have reported over almost a decade in this blog many innocent people have been caught up in New York’s knife law maze.  Last week, however, after several prior attempts at changing the law, Governor Cuomo finally signed a law that will change New York’s knife laws.1142076_knife_1

The Problem

As we wrote as early as 2010, the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office made a deal with several retailers in Manhattan, including Home Depot and other major retailers for them to pay a financial penalty and stop selling gravity knives in New York.  The problem was that these knives were being sold by companies who paid only a relatively small financial penalty while citizens, many african-american and latino youths were being arrested and given criminal records for buying these knives which were readily available.  In 2016, we wrote another blog about this problem after the Village Voice wrote an extensive article about it.  According to the Village Voice article, there had been as many as 60,000 arrests for gravity knives in the preceding 10 years which put gravity knives in the top 10 most prosecuted cases.  Village Voice analysis also seemed to indicate that a disproportionate number of African-Americans and Latinos were prosecuted for gravity knives.

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As Second Amendment attorney Peter H. Tilem reported in a blog on April 24, 2016, New York and New Jersey’s outright ban on stun guns and tasers were unconstitutional.  stungunNow today, a Federal District Judge in upstate New York confirmed that opinion and enjoined the New York State Police from enforcing New York Penal Law sec 265.01 (1) as it applies to “Electronic Dart Guns” and “Electronic Stun Guns.”  The case entitled Avitabile v. Beach was decided earlier today by US District Judge David N. Hurd of the United States District Court for the Northern District in New York.  While the case is not necessarily binding in New York City, the case applies the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Caetano v. Massachusetts, which struck down the Massachusetts state ban on stun guns.

The issue actually began with the famous Second Amendment Case of Heller which was decided in 2008.  In knocking out a ban on handguns in Washington DC, the US Supreme Court in Heller ruled that the Second Amendment applied to “bearable” arms.  The Caetano decision, in knocking down a stun gun conviction in Massachusetts, made it very clear that a stun gun was a bearable arm as that term was used in Heller.

Besides being illegal, bans on stun guns and tasers are inherently illogical.  All states permit the possession of handguns to a degree.  Even New Jersey and New York City which effectively ban the possession of handguns outside the home, permit handgun possession in the home, with the appropriate license (in New York).  However, prior to today’s ruling, New York and New Jersey have a complete and total ban on the civilian possession of stun guns and tasers which are non-lethal.  This complete and total ban includes both possession inside the home and outside the home and does not even permit possession with a license.

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Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a New York gun crime case discussing whether the arresting officer’s conduct violated the defendant’s constitutional right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. Ultimately, the court concluded that the officer possessed a reasonable belief that the defendant was armed or had recently committed a crime, and thus it held that the search of the defendant was permissible.

Police Interaction with Citizens

Under New York law, there are four levels of interactions between a police officer and a citizen. The more evidence a police officer has to believe that they are in danger or that the suspect has committed a crime, the more authority the officer has to stop, detain, frisk, and search the individual.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was riding in a vehicle as the front-seat passenger, when the car was pulled over by police for a traffic violation. As one of the police officers approached the vehicle, he noticed that the defendant made a sudden move with his hand from his right shoulder to his lap area.

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As New York Firearms Lawyers we are often asked about the legality of certain specific guns in New York given the very complex laws about what firearms may be owned in New York.  A relatively new pair of firearms present some very interesting legal issues given the current state of New York Law and just may fit into a loophole under existing New York gun laws.

Mossberg Shockwave

The Mossberg Shockwave is a gun that has a barrel length of just over 14 inches and is a smooth bore (no rifling).  Its overall length is just over 26 inches and it has a magazine capacity of 5.  The shockwave is pump action and is fitted with a grip that appears to be a pistol grip that Mossberg refers to as a bird’s head pistol grip.