The town of Canandaigua is nestled in the Finger Lakes region of central New York State, five hours and a world away from New York City. It is here, in a nondescript, unmarked warehouse that Tom Fargnoli runs his small gun fabrication business, Just Right Carbines.
As the child of a father who was vehemently anti-gun, Tom saw firearms as a forbidden fruit. His profound curiosity about them may be one of the reasons the 67 year old is today regarded as a gifted designer, fabricator and assembler of them. His 6 1/2 pound semi-automatic carbine has just 44 parts. He sells 75 of them a week on average. Tom speaks in the same way that buyers describe his carbines – simple, reliable, and accurate.
"In 2013, I was at the shot show in Las Vegas, and everything was fine on Monday. Tuesday morning, when I woke up, my gun was illegal in New York State," he said.
New York State's passage of the SAFE Act – the Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act of 2013 – was heralded as one of the strictest in the country. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo's comments at the time, coming in the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre, might have well been spoken today after yet another mass shooting.
"Mentally ill people should not have access to guns. Criminals should not have access to guns. You should limit these high capacity magazines. Why? Because if, God forbid, the gun winds up in the wrong hands of someone you want to limit the danger," he said.
A growing number of gun manufacturers are leaving states like New York and California, which have unleashed a wave of strict gun control laws the past few years. Companies like Fargnoli are now becoming a rare breed in the Empire State as many flee to more gun-friendly states.
Fargnoli believes many of the SAFE Act restrictions were arbitrary and random. No more pistol grip. No more threaded barrel. It meant redesigning components, and finding new out-of-state-suppliers. Asked if he lost a lot of business, he replied, "If 10 percent is a lot. It hurt us."
Yet, the SAFE Act mandated no changes to the working parts of what critics call "assault" weapons – the very types of carbines Fargnoli and his staff of seven employees assemble.
"They are literally identical, they are interchangeable," said Scott Braum, counsel to Just Right Carbines. "They're all the same function, they're all the same operation. They're all the same caliber. They just look different."
One of the sponsors of the SAFE Act disagrees.
"These cosmetic changes are not cosmetic at all," says Jeff Klein, who represents parts of the Bronx and Westchester County. He described them as "features that enhance one-handed shooting comfort and rapid reloading capabilities that no sportsman needs."
Just Right Carbines has found that even changing the color of its rifles, from black to a wood-grained metal, or to an American flag design, appeases some anti-gun legislators.
The ever increasing costs of compliance has driven many gunsmiths out of New York and other states southward to more gun friendly states. Remington, in business here since the 19th century, recently relocated to Alabama. Beretta pulled out of Maryland for Tennessee. KAHR Arms moved to Pennsylvania. So far, Fargnoli is resisting.
"I have 11 grandchildren and one on the way. And I can tell you my wife’s not leaving them. So moving the business isn't going to happen for me," he said.
And he ponders whether more laws will work when existing ones didn't. He notes that concerned citizens raised countless red flags about Nicolas Cruz. Most were ignored or casually dismissed by authorities, in what amounts to an utter failure by government institutions. A reality, he believes, that reinforces a citizen’s right – and need – to keep and bear arms.
"What they take away will never give back," he said.