New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, center, speaks during a news conference announcing an agreement with legislative leaders on New York's Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act on Jan. 14.
Photo credit: AP Photo/Mike Groll
ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — New York lawmakers agreed to pass the toughest gun control law in the nation and the first since the Newtown, Conn., school shooting, and now dare other states and Washington to follow.
"This is a scourge on society," Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Monday night, six days after making gun control a centerpiece of his progressive agenda in his State of the State address. The bipartisan effort was fueled by the Newton tragedy that took the lives of 20 first graders and six educators. "At what point do you say, 'No more innocent loss of life.'"
Sen. Jeffrey Klein, leader of the Independent Democratic Conference in the Senate, said it is landmark legislation. "This is not about taking anyone's rights away," said Klein, a Bronx Democrat. "It's about a safe society ... today we are setting the mark for the rest of the county to do what's right."
The measure, which calls for a tougher assault weapons ban and restrictions on ammunition and the sale of guns, passed the Senate 43-18 on the strength of support from Democrats, many of whom previously sponsored bills that were once blocked by Republicans. The Democrat-led Assembly gaveled out before midnight and planned to take the issue up at 10 a.m. Tuesday. It is expected to pass easily.
The governor confirmed the proposal, previously worked out in closed session, also would mandate a police registry of assault weapons, grandfathering in assault weapons already in private hands.
It would create a more powerful tool to require the reporting of mentally ill people who say they intend to use a gun illegally and would address the unsafe storage of guns, the governor confirmed.
It was agreed upon exactly a month since the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy.
"It is well-balanced, it protects the Second Amendment," said Senate Republican leader Dean Skelos of Long Island. "And there is no confiscation of weapons, which was at one time being considered.
"This is going to go after those who are bringing illegal guns into the state, who are slaughtering people in New York City," Skelos said. "This is going to put people in jail and keep people in jail who shouldn't be out on the street in the first place."
Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins of Yonkers noted most bills had been pushed by Democrats in past years, but bottled up by Republicans.
"The Senate Democrats were proud to provide the votes to make this crucial package possible," said Stewart-Cousins, leader of the traditional Democratic conference. "The fact is, the bills passed today should have been enacted a long time ago."
Cuomo said he wanted quick action to avoid a run on assault weapons and ammunition as he tries to address what he estimates is about 1 million assault weapons in New York state.
Republican Sen. Greg Ball called that political opportunism in a rare criticism of the popular and powerful governor seen by his supporters as a possible candidate for president in 2016.
"We haven't saved any lives tonight, except one: the political life of a governor who wants to be president," said Ball who represents part of the Hudson Valley. "We have taken an entire category of firearms that are currently legal that are in the homes of law-abiding, tax paying citizens. ... We are now turning those law-abiding citizens into criminals."
Under current state law, assault weapons are defined by having two "military rifle" features spelled out in the law. The proposal would reduce that to one feature and include the popular pistol grip.
Private sales of assault weapons to someone other than an immediate family would be subject to a background check through a dealer. Also Internet sales of assault weapons would be banned, and failing to safely store a weapon could be subject to a misdemeanor charge.
Ammunition magazines would be restricted to seven bullets, from the current 10, and current owners of higher-capacity magazines would have a year to sell them out of state. An owner caught at home with eight or more bullets in a magazine could face a misdemeanor charge.
In another provision, a therapist who believes a mental health patient made a credible threat to use a gun illegally would be required to report the incident to a mental health director who would have to report serious threats to the state Department of Criminal Justice Services. A patient's gun could be taken from him or her.
The legislation also increases sentences for gun crimes including the shooting of a first responder that Cuomo called the "Webster provision." Last month in the western New York town of Webster, two firefighters were killed after responding to a fire set by the shooter, who eventually killed himself.
Senate Deputy Majority Leader Thomas Libous of Broome County voted against the bill and said it was a tough vote for upstate Republicans.
"I have had thousands of emails and calls," Libous said. "I have to respect their wishes." He said many of constituents worry the bill will conflict with the Second Amendment's right to bear arms while others anguish over shootings like at Newtown, Conn., and Columbine, Colo.
The closed-door meetings prompted about a dozen gun workers to travel more than two hours to Albany to protest the legislation they say could cost 300 to 700 jobs in the economically hard-hit Mohawk Valley.
"I have three small kids myself," said Jamie Rudall, a unionized worker who polishes shotgun receivers. "So I know what it means, the tragedy ... we need to look at ways to prevent that, rather than eliminate the rights of law-abiding citizens."
In the gun debate, one concern for New York is its major gun manufacturer upstate.
Remington Arms Co. makes the Bushmaster semi-automatic rifle that was used in the Connecticut shootings and again on Christmas Eve when the two firefighters were slain in Webster. The two-century-old Remington factory in Ilion in central New York employs 1,000 workers in a Republican Senate district.
Assemblyman Marc Butler, a Republican who represents the area, decried the closed-door meetings by Senate Republicans and the Democratic majority of the Assembly as "politics at its worst."
The bill would be the first test of the new coalition in control of the Senate, which has long been run by Republicans opposed to gun control measures. The chamber is now in the hands of Republicans and five breakaway Democrats led by Klein, an arrangement expected to result in more progressive legislation.
Former Republican Sen. Michael Balboni said that for legislators from the more conservative upstate region of New York, gun control "has the intensity of the gay marriage issue." In 2011, three of four Republicans who crossed the aisle to vote for same-sex marriage ended up losing their jobs because of their votes.
AP Writer Michael Virtanen contributed to this report from Albany.
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