New York Gov. Kathy Hochul said the state is investigating how a Conklin teen was allowed to buy an assault rifle nearly a year after he was reported to authorities for previewing a deadly attack to one of his teachers.
Speaking on Buffalo’s Kiss 98.5 Monday morning, Hochul said a teacher had reported 18-year-old Payton Gendron, who is accused of killing ten people at the Tops Friendly Market on Jefferson Avenue in Buffalo, to authorities last June.
“What are your plans?” Hochul said the teacher asked Gendron. “He said, ‘I want to murder and commit suicide.’ So they immediately took action.”
The remark was reported to State Police, after which Gendron had a psychiatric evaluation but was released because there wasn’t a specific threat at that time, Hochul said.
New York has what’s known as a Red Flag law that’s supposed to block people thought to be a threat to themselves or others from purchasing weapons. Yet despite the incident last June, Gendron was able to buy an assault rifle from a vintage firearm seller in Endicott, N.Y., the New York Times reported.
“I've asked for the investigation of exactly what transpired there,” Hochul said. “But there was nothing that flagged that he wouldn't be able to — from that encounter at the time — be able to go into a store and purchase a gun. We need to question that as well.”
Since New York’s Red Flag law went into effect in August of 2019, state court judges have approved 589 "Extreme Risk Protection Orders" that prevent a person from possessing or buying a firearm for some amount of time for up to a year, and 875 temporary orders that last for up to six days, according to data from the New York State Courts.
Police officers, district attorneys, family members or school administrators can file a petition for this type of protective order, but advocates say the law isn’t widely known or used across the state. Last fall, for example, New Yorkstarted requiring mental health facilities provide information about the state’s red flag law to the families of at-risk patients at discharge. The change came after a Westchester woman died by suicide soon after she was released from a psychiatric ward and bought a gun. Her husband, who became an advocate for changes to the law, said he had no idea he could have sought an order to block her from buying one.
In Gendron's case, state police and school administrators, both of whom have the capacity to seek protection orders, were aware of the threats he’d made, though it wasn’t clear if either petitioned to have him blocked from purchasing weapons. Neither Hochul's office nor the State Police immediately returned a request for further comment.
Hochul said the teen outfitted his legal assault rifle with an enhanced magazine that’s outlawed in New York. He’d driven the short way over the Pennsylvania border to purchase the attachment, where enhanced magazines are legal, she said.
“That's why we need a national response to this,” Hochul said. “Otherwise, we are just vulnerable to the laws in other states that don't protect residents the way we do.”
President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden will travel to Buffalo Tuesday to “grieve with the community,” the Associated Press reported. Gendron is facing hate crimes charges after he was arrested at the scene of the shooting, having traveled three hours from his hometown of Conklin to specifically target the predominantly Black neighborhood, authorities said. A 180-page document Gendron is believed to have authored, was filled with racist, anti-Semitic and anti-immigrant messages such as "replacement theory," explaining why he’d planned the deadly attack.
Buffalo police released the identities of the ten victims Sunday night, who ranged in age from 32 to 86.
Among the dead were a former police lieutenant, a grandmother of six, a civil rights activist and a food pantry operator, among others, NPR reported.