Inspired by the impassioned words of Governor Andrew Cuomo during his State of the State address last week, New York State legislators on Tuesday, January 15, approved the toughest gun control legislation in the nation for the residents of the Empire State. The law expands the state’s existing assault weapons ban and addresses gun ownership by those with mental illnesses.
The measure passed the state Assembly with a vote of 104-43 after passing the state Senate with a vote of 43-18 on Monday.
Governor Cuomo quickly signed the legislation on Tuesday. “This unfortunately required tragedies and loss of life to actually spur the political process to action,” Cuomo said in remarks before signing the bill.
“This will be the toughest gun control package in the nation,” Senator Jeffrey Klein, leader of the Independent Democrat Conference that shares majority control with Republican senators, told The Associated Press. “All in all, it is a comprehensive, balanced approach that will save lives.”
The National Rifle Association was “outraged” Tuesday calling New York’s gun control bill “draconian,” in a statement.
Using his State of the State address on Wednesday, January 9, to promulgate a broad based plan that would include a ban on assault weapons with military features, an emotional New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo demanded that state lawmakers lead the nation by passing America’s toughest gun control laws. He also called for the limiting of large capacity magazines to a maximum of seven bullets and for permitting law enforcement agents to confiscate firearms of those they consider to be mentally unstable.
Following the shooting rampage on December 14, that took the lives of 20 first-graders and six adults at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, the issue of gun control has dominated the headlines and has been the focal point of a rancorous national debate.
“I know that the issue of gun control is hard,” Cuomo said during his 80-minute address in Albany In an oblique reference to gun rights advocates at the National Rifle Association, Cuomo intoned, “I know it’s political. I know it’s controversial. ... I say to you: Forget the extremists. It’s simple, no one hunts with an assault rifle. No one needs 10 bullets to kill a deer and too many innocent people have died already. End the madness, now!”
Before his speech, Cuomo presented state flags to the families of the two volunteer firefighters who were killed when a madman set fire to his Rochester-area house on Christmas Eve and shot at first responders who arrived at the scene.
As his voice rose, Cuomo campaigned for the passage of “safe, reasonable gun control,” asking New York to “set an example for the rest of the nation.” Putting forth a seven-point plan, Cuomo called it “a gun policy in this state that is reasonable, that is balanced, that is measured.” “Gun violence has been on a rampage,” he said. “In one word it is just enough.”
A deal among lawmakers in Albany appears near as Senate Republican leader Dean Skelos — whose caucus has long opposed more stringent firearms prohibitions -- said he was hopeful an agreement on new gun laws could be presented to his members for a vote as soon as next week. “I think we can wrap it up pretty quickly,” the Long Island Republican said.
Saying that he was in accordance with all of Cuomo’s proposals, Skelos added that he wants to ensure that the final plan is “balanced.” For Republicans, that means tougher penalties for the illegal use of guns, he said. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) said he believed a deal was 95% done
Albany has long been known as a place where proposed legislation can languish indefinitely, and as such, Cuomo has placed his gun agenda on the super fast track. “It’s important for him,” said one source close to the New York governor. “He wants to lead the nation on this. He wants to beat the White House.”
Positing himself as a potential presidential hopeful in 2016, Cuomo is seizing the moment in order to demonstrate progress on curbing gun violence at a time when Washington appears deadlocked on how to solve the problem, according to Albany insiders.
Noting that New York passed “Sullivan’s Law” -- the nation’s first gun control law requiring firearm permits in 1911 -- Cuomo said it was time for the state’s legislators to once again be in the forefront on this issue. “Save lives,” he said. “Set an example for the rest of the nation.”
While New York has an assault weapons ban already in existence, many high-powered rifles that have a capacity greater than 10 rounds don’t come under the ban because it exempts magazines manufactured before 1994. If a magazine is not stamped then it can’t be banned.
Cuomo called for requiring federal background checks of all gun sales, including private ones; the ban of high-capacity magazines; enacting tougher penalties for illegal gun use, guns on school grounds, and gun activity by gangs; keeping guns from people who are mentally ill; banning the direct Internet sale of ammunition purchases; one state check on all firearms purchases; and programs to cut gun violence in high-crime neighborhoods.
As an addendum to the gun measures would be an expansion of Kendra’s Law, which allows a judge to force mentally ill patients to be committed or to receive treatment if they pose a danger to themselves or to others. The law was named for Kendra Webdale, who was pushed to her death on a subway platform in 1999 by a schizophrenic patient. It is set to expire in 2015, and lawmakers have not agreed on whether to extend the law.
The gun-law package is also expected to include new reporting requirements for psychiatrists and other mental health professionals, requiring them to disclose when they learn that patients pose a serious danger to themselves or to others in order to make it easier to restrict gun sales to such individuals.
Lauding Cuomo for his “passionate leadership on gun violence” was New York City Mayor Bloomberg, who was in attendance for the speech and has been exhorting President Obama to enact flinty new gun controls. “New York State has led the nation with strong, common-sense gun laws, and the governor’s new proposals will build on that tradition,” Bloomberg said. “They will help law enforcement keep guns out of the hands of criminals and other dangerous people and save lives.”
The Citizens Crime Commission of New York City called a potential deal in Albany a turning point in the push to attack gun violence. “This is a watershed moment for the gun control movement. The governor has a real opportunity to set the agenda for the nation by proposing a comprehensive solution,” the commission said.
As the owner of a Remington shotgun, Cuomo said his proposal “is not taking away people’s guns. That is not what this is about. It is about ending the unnecessary risk of high-capacity assault rifles.”
Parting ways with the New York Governor was state Conservative Party Chairman Michael Long who said that Cuomo’s initiatives won’t help solve what is a “serious cultural problem.” And mental health activist Michael Carey criticized Cuomo for not addressing the need to help the mentally ill before they commit crimes and the need to improve the state psychiatric system.
Predicated on feedback from state lawmakers, Cuomo said he would be open to making changes in his gun-control package, but did not specify where he was willing to compromise. The governor also said there was a disagreement over how to handle the issue of assault weapons that are now legally owned but would become illegal under an expanded ban. Creating anxiety among gun owners, last month Cuomo said “confiscation could be an option,” but has not repeated the comment recently and appears to have backed away from it.
While remaining cognizant that state legislators would probably face pressure to not pass his proposals from gun-rights advocates, Cuomo reminded lawmakers that they had an obligation to their constituents to support legislation that would improve public safety.
“Yes, you will annoy some extremists,” he said, “but you will protect the people of your district, and the people of this state.”
Just as Cuomo was addressing this issue in Albany, Vice President Joe Biden commenced two days of meetings at the White House with victims of gun violence, gun safety advocate groups and gun rights groups, including the National Rifle Association, and gun sellers, including Wal-Mart. Prior to the meeting, Biden told the media that they were at the White House “to deal with a problem that requires our immediate action, urgent action,” adding that he and President Obama “are determined to take action.” “I want to make it clear that we are not going to get caught up in the notion, unless we can do everything, we’re going to do nothing,” Biden added.
Also last Wednesday, the issue of gun control was raised by Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy who used the opportunity of his State of the State address to stress “more guns are not the answer,” and to announce the formation of the Sandy Hook Advisory Commission comprised of experts in mental health, education, law enforcement and first response.
“Freedom is not a handgun on the hip of every teacher, and security should not mean a guard posted outside every classroom,” Malloy said, referring to the NRA’s proposal to have armed guards outside of every school in the country. “We also know that this conversation must take place nationally,” Malloy added. “As long as weapons continue to travel up and down I-95, what is available for sale in Florida or Virginia can have devastating consequences here in Connecticut. ... Our focus will be first and foremost on protecting Connecticut’s families.”