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'There are going to be lawsuits': Upstate New Yorkers react to gun bans in bear country

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Residents of upstate New York are expressing concern and confusion over the state's newly enacted gun control laws, which severely curtail the right to carry firearms in areas deemed "sensitive locations," including state parks in the Adirondack mountains.

In late June, Democratic lawmakers rushed to pass new gun restrictions after the Supreme Court ruled that a 109-year-old New York law that required citizens to show proper cause to apply for a permit to carry concealed weapons was unconstitutional. On July 1, Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) signed a bill establishing a long list of "sensitive locations" that have essentially become gun-free zones, including airports, houses of worship, government buildings, and parks.

The law makes it a felony crime to carry a firearm in these restricted locations starting on Sept. 1.

But New York hunters and communities living upstate in the nearly six million acres of forest preserve in the Adirondacks worry the new restrictions on carrying guns in parks means they'll no longer be able to hunt or participate in sporting events where they live.

"It pretty much means I've got to leave the firearm at home," said Rick Bennett, who owns the North Creek Trading Post, a store that sells firearms and fish tackle. Bennett was one of several upstate New Yorkers interviewed by Reuters who have expressed concerns about the new gun restrictions.

Others include people who run summer camps in Adirondack Park, a mountainous area covering one-fifth of the state of New York that is home to 130,000 people. They say that popular sporting rifle courses for children could now be a felony crime since the camps are considered "sensitive locations." Likewise, the annual biathlon at Mount Van Hoevenberg could be illegal since it mixes skiing with target shooting.

While New York's new gun law carries an exemption for people "lawfully engaged in hunting activity," deer season only lasts for a few weeks in the fall. Also, bears and other dangerous wildlife make the mountains and hiking trails their home. New Yorkers are wondering if it is a crime to carry a gun on a hike for protection.

Hochul's office has claimed the new law "changes nothing for lawful gun owners on both Forest Preserve and private lands within the blue line of the Adirondacks and Catskills."

"These areas are not considered ‘sensitive locations’ under the law," a spokesman for Hochul told Adirondack Explorer.

But lawmakers disagree. During legislative debate, state Sen. Zellnor Myrie (D), one of the gun bill's sponsors, said, "The parts of the Adirondack Park that are public would fall under the sensitive location criteria laid out here, but there are parts of the park, as you know, that are not public, that are private property, so this pertains to the public portions of that park.”

Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz, another Democratic bill sponsor, was also adamant that Adirondack Park is considered a sensitive location for purposes of the gun restrictions. He opposes a Republican amendment that would exclude Adirondack Park lands from the bill.

Gun rights groups who won at the Supreme Court in June say they'll continue to fight New York's gun control regime.

"I have gotten hundreds of calls from people from the Adirondacks," Tom King, president of the New York State Rifle and Pistol Association, told Reuters.

"And all I can say is that there are going to be lawsuits."

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