GUN SHOW? Simple tweaks get AR-15 around NY ‘cosmetic’ ban

Simple design tweaks are allowing gun makers to get around restrictions New York put in place following the 2012 school shootings in Connecticut, prompting some critics to say the laws were mere window dressing. 

New York lawmakers passed the SAFE Act last year, and announced with fanfare that it effectively banned the sale of “assault weapons.” But AR-15s, the most popular type of guns often referred to as assault weapons, are sold in Empire State gun shops, freely and legally. The gun is being marketed by Stag Arms as a “New York-compliant AR-15,” and features a slightly modified stock and no bells and whistles. The gun does not have a pistol grip, for instance – one of the features banned by the act.

“This just shows that the gun prohibition lobby uses symbolic gestures over substance to push their anti-gun rights agenda. Banning guns based on cosmetic features proves that point,” Alan Gottlieb, president of the Second Amendment Foundation, told

“This just shows that the gun prohibition lobby uses symbolic gestures over substance to push their anti-gun rights agenda.”

– Alan Gottlieb, Second Amendment Foundation

Gun-rights supporters say it illustrates that so-called “assault weapons” – an often-used term with no single definition – are usually no more dangerous than hunting rifles. The “AR” in AR-15 does not stand for “assault rifle,” as commonly believed, but for “Armalite Rifle.”

In New York, an assault weapon is defined as any semi-automatic rifle that accepts a magazine and has any of a list of ten features, ranging from a pistol-like grip to a flash suppressor to a bayonet mount.

Mayors Against Illegal Guns, the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, and the Violence Policy Center – all groups that support more gun control – declined to comment or did not answer questions from about the effectiveness of assault-weapons bans.

The New York Attorney General’s office referred questions to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office, which did not respond.

Cuomo’s website boasts that the state has “the toughest assault weapons ban in the country” and that “under the legislation, the Bushmaster used in the Newtown, Conn., shooting will be illegal.”

Gottlieb said that may be well-intentioned but is ineffective at best.

“Some of the guns they’re banning are the safest guns,” he said. “There aren’t many accidents committed with Bushmaster rifles, and there are a number of times that so-called assault rifles have been used in self defense.”

Some gun dealers in New York State say they are glad to be selling AR-15s again.

“Believe it or not, if I had a hundred of things to sell, they’d already be gone. I’m hoping to have them in my shop in the next two weeks,” Justin Reickart, who runs H&H Guns in southwestern New York, told

“We’ve already showed it to about a dozen people, just a picture of what it’s going to be, and the younger generation – they already love it. They’re like, it’s same gun, just with a sci-fi looking stock. The suggested retail price is going to be $1,050. Prior to the ban, you would have been able to buy the gun for $949 – so it adds $100, to make it New York compliant.”

Asked why people want AR-15s, Reickart said they are simply good guns.

“It’s a universal gun that you can put in anybody’s hands… I’ve used it for coyote hunting, deer hunting… it’s a fun and enjoyable gun to shoot,” he said.

Reickart got attention last year when he developed his own AR-15 which he believed complied with New York law – but he decided not to actually sell the gun because the State Attorney General would not give written confirmation that it followed state law.

For New York gun owners with existing non-compliant AR-15s, they either have to register their gun with the state by April 15 or modify it to comply with the law.

Some gun owners are hesitant to register their guns, some for fear that the list would later be used for gun confiscation as just recently happened in New York City.

To avoid that, some owners of old AR-15s are modifying them so that they no longer classify as “assault weapons.” One company, S&B Products, offers a “spur” to replace the pistol grip.

“The New York State Police have told us that by removing all of the prohibited design characteristics the  rifle is no longer considered an “assault weapon” and is therefore not subject to the registration requirement,” Steve Byron, President of S&B Products, told

Byron said he thought the triviality of the modifications shows that the law is not productive.

“I believe politicians should not write and pass laws about something they know nothing about,” he said.

The author of the piece can be reached on twitter at @maximlott or at

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