New York could soon prevent those under the age of 21 from purchasing AR-15-style rifles and other semi-automatic weapons if Gov. Kathy Hochul gets her way.
Hochul, a Democrat, said Wednesday she will support a change in state law to raise the minimum age to purchase an AR-15 from 18 to 21 – and left open the possibility of expanding the provision to additional types of guns. She said she’s hoping to get the change passed before state lawmakers end their annual legislative session on June 2. If approved, the measure will toughen New York’s already strict gun laws.
The governor’s announcement came in the wake of two mass shootings in the past 10 days, first in a Buffalo supermarket on May 14 and Tuesday at a Texas elementary school. In both cases, the respective gunmen were 18 years old and used an AR-15, according to police. In both cases, the gunmen legally purchased their weapons.
“How does an 18-year-old purchase an AR-15 in the state of New York, the state of Texas?” Hochul said Wednesday after an emergency meeting of an interstate gun task force. “That person's not old enough to buy a legal drink. I want to work with the legislature to change that. I want it to be 21. I think that's just common sense.”
How does an 18-year-old purchase an AR-15 in the state of New York, the state of Texas?
Hochul continued: “I don't want 18-year-olds to have guns.”
Asked to clarify, Hochul said she wants the change from 18 to 21 to apply “at a minimum” to AR-15s, saying she would work with the state Legislature to determine whether it could apply to other types of firearms. Such a change would apply statewide — New York City already bans the sale of guns to those under 21.
"I want to work with the Legislature to do something that is far more common sense than we have right now," Hochul said, adding: "I'm going to look at everything."
Hochul’s proposal drew support from Senate Democrats, who hold a large majority in the Legislature’s upper chamber. Sen. Brad Hoylman, D-Manhattan, had previously sponsored a bill that would raise the minimum age for purchasing any gun to 21.
"This is something we have been discussing and we have always been supportive of this idea and would certainly be in favor of moving forward,” said Mike Murphy, a spokesman for Senate Democrats.
Mike Whyland, a spokesman for Assembly Democrats, said the matter was under review.
“We are discussing a number of different proposals with our members,” Whyland said.
Hochul’s push comes as a number of states have imposed tighter restrictions on selling guns to those under the age of 21, including Florida and California. In those states, gun-rights activists have challenged the restrictions in federal court, where the cases remain in federal court.
California passed its ban on selling semiautomatic rifles to 19- and 20-year-olds in 2019. In March of this year, a mid-level appeals court ruled the ban violated the Second Amendment.
Hochul said she wouldn't let that decision, made in a separate federal court circuit from New York, impact her push for a new law.
"I'm not going to let my fear of losing a court case stop me from what I think is correct for New Yorkers," she said. "We'll protect them, because you may get a good judge that actually cares and has common sense and would understand that these are not punitive measures. These are laws that take into consideration the rights under the Second Amendment."
Tom King, president of the New York State Rifle and Pistol Association, said it would be speculative to say whether his organization would challenge Hochul's proposal in court, given that it hasn't passed — or even been put in bill form — yet.
But King, an NRA board member, made clear he didn't think much of Hochul's push.
"I'm against raising the age to 21," he said. "I don't see what good it's going to do. There are many other things that (Hochul) can do in order to make the people of New York safer — harden schools, put in armed police officers or armed guards, or even arm some teachers if necessary, if they want to be."
This story has been updated with additional information.