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New York has tough gun laws, but that didn't prevent Buffalo's mass shooting

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

New York's governor, Kathy Hochul, says her state has some of the toughest gun laws in the country. But those laws did not prevent 10 deaths in Buffalo. Would tighter restrictions have made a difference? We're going to bring in Nick Suplina now to help answer that question. He's senior vice president for law and policy with the advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety. Nick, thanks for being here.

NICK SUPLINA: Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: The accused Buffalo shooter had a history of threatening violence. And under New York's red flag law, he shouldn't have been able to buy a gun, right? But he did.

SUPLINA: Yeah. Well, you know, New York does, in fact, have some of the toughest gun laws in the country. And that matters. New York also has one of the lowest per capita gun law rates in the country. So laws relating to guns and access to guns matter. And in some ways, the Buffalo case is a tragic proof point of that because the extreme risk law that's in place in New York could have - and we're still trying to understand why it was not used here - but could have prevented this tragedy.

MARTIN: Explain what that is, the extreme risk law. Is that the same as the red flag law?

SUPLINA: That's the same thing, yeah. So extreme risk laws or red flag laws are laws that can be used to temporarily deprive somebody of a firearm who poses a risk for themselves to others. They're active in 20 states across the country and can be used to prevent suicide, but also acts of mass violence like this. So this shooter, who had made a threat at his school, who was detained by state police, was a prime candidate for use of that law. And it could have stopped this incident from happening.

MARTIN: OK. And as you point out, authorities are trying to figure out why those laws didn't stop this from happening. I mean, the gun shop owner who sold him the weapon said he ran a check and it raised no red flags. So clearly, there's some questions that need to be answered. But can we talk about how this shooter changed his weapon, right? I mean, investigators say the magazines used for ammunition in the Buffalo attack weren't allowed to be sold in New York and that the gun had been modified. How do you stop that from happening?

SUPLINA: Well, you know, one culprit here that too often avoids scrutiny is the gun industry itself. The weapon that was purchased in New York was easily modified. And it needn't be easily modified. But gun manufacturers continue to make deadly weapons that can be changed easily. YouTube doesn't help the problem by offering online tutorials about how to do that. And then an out-of-state trip by the shooter allowed him to obtain this high-capacity magazine. The fact is that the industry is creating these high-powered weapons, these workarounds for state laws and has been shielded from any liability or any culpability here. And I think it's time, in a situation as tragic as Buffalo, to start asking the question, when will we hold the industry accountable for its role in our gun violence crisis?

MARTIN: Are you satisfied with how New York state government has held the industry accountable?

SUPLINA: Well, you know, New York, in its last session, passed a first of its kind law that may allow increased liability for the gun industry. And so that's an enormous step forward. I think, in our conversations about incidents motivated by white supremacy and racism, as this one, must also recognize that if we don't address the firearms and the firepower that we're putting in the hands of these hate-filled individuals, you know, we're not going to address the deadliness of this problem. I think New York is ready to do more. I think that law was an incredible first step. But as a country, we need to really reconcile, why are we giving the gun industry a pass?

MARTIN: The Supreme Court is expected to issue a ruling in June that could force eight states, including New York, to loosen concealed carry laws. From your perspective, what's at stake here?

SUPLINA: Wow. I can't really overstate the urgency of that moment. Gun laws in those eight states, which is about 1-in-4 Americans, by the way, covered by one of those laws, the Supreme Court is - should uphold the New York state law. But if it doesn't, it's taking a huge risk with American public safety. It's threatening states' rights to produce their own public safety. And we will see an increase in gun violence as a result should the Supreme Court strike that law.

MARTIN: Nick Suplina with the advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety. We appreciate your time this morning. Thank you.

SUPLINA: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.