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Confused by NY’s new gun laws, military re-enactors lay down their arms

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New York state’s new gun laws have created some questions for historical re-enactments and antique gun owners. Some event organizers say the new laws are forcing them to cancel their military re-enactments, but the state says those events can go forward.

Battle re-enactments are popular activities for families and history buffs.

“It’s reliving history,” said Rogers Island Heritage Development Alliance board president Ed Carpenter.

With New York’s rich history dating back to the Revolutionary War, the reenactments are common across the state.

“This in Fort Edward was one of the largest British military installations in North America in the 1750s,” said Carpenter, referring to Rogers Island, where he takes care of the historic grounds and leads a visitor’s center. “I have been involved in re-enacting, but it takes up most of my time, managing the facility.”

That includes planning re-enactments on the island and providing a close look at war in the 18th Century.

“We were expecting up to 1,000 visitors and up to 200 re-enactors,” Carpenter said. That was for an event this past weekend. It had been in the works for more than a year, but it was called off.

“Reenactors from eastern states and Canada began to interpret that law, and they decided they weren’t going to come to this event,” Carpenter said, speaking about new gun regulations that took effect across the state on Sept. 1.

“British Brown Bess musket, it was 75-caliber,” he said. “A good trained solider could get off three shots per minute.”

It’s the weapon re-enactors would have used on Roger’s Island to shoot blanks. But Carpenter said they’re under the impression the antiques are now subject to the same rules as modern firearms.

“They were afraid if they came to this event, that weapon could be confiscated or they could be charged with a felony,” he explained.

Firearms are also now strictly prohibited in “sensitive areas,” places like hospitals, schools and parks, like Roger’s Island.

“If it’s not in your own backyard, it’s probably a sensitive location,” said attorney Donald Chesworth, a partner at Tully Rinckey PLLC.

Legal experts say the new regulations have created some murkiness, and the re-enactors’ reservations to perform were warranted.

“They’d be committing an E felony,” Chesworth said. “They also change the definition of what’s considered to be a rifle or a shotgun. It used to be that an old musket, load the powder, the ball and everything else, was not a firearm. I don’t think you can argue that anymore.”

State leaders insist this was not the intention, and that historical re-enactments are an exception to these new regulations. Gov. Kathy Hochul reiterated that Friday on Capital Tonight.

“They can continue their re-enactments,” she said. “If there is tightening that’s required, we’ll do it. But we’ve said all along, re-enactments can continue. We want that tradition to continue.”

The sentiment, though, has not been well-received by re-enactors, who are choosing not to partake in events across the state.

“You can’t have a re-enacting event without re-enactors,” Carpenter said. “They need to feel comfortable and willing to participate…We’re coming off the pandemic. We haven’t had anything here in years. This was huge.”

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