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NY seals first gun laws since Newtown massacre

By: AP
By: AP
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 in the Red Room at the Capitol on Monday, Jan. 14, 2013, in Albany, N.Y. Also pictured are Secretary to the Governor Larry Schwartz, left, and Lt. Gov. Robert Duffy. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)

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 in the Red Room at the Capitol on Monday, Jan. 14, 2013, in Albany, N.Y. Also pictured are Secretary to the Governor Larry Schwartz, left, and Lt. Gov. Robert Duffy. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) -- Jumping out ahead of Washington, New York enacted the nation's toughest gun restrictions Tuesday and the first since the Connecticut school shooting, including an expanded assault-weapon ban and mandatory background checks for buying ammunition.

Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the measure into law less than an hour after it won final passage in the Legislature, with supporters hailing it as a model for the nation and gun-rights activists condemning it as a knee-jerk piece of legislation that won't make anyone safer and is too extreme to win support in the rest of the country.

"Common sense can win," Cuomo said. "You can overpower the extremists with intelligence and with reason and with common sense."

Owners of an estimated 1 million previously legal semiautomatic rifles, like the Bushmaster model used to kill 20 children and six adults in Newtown, Conn., a month ago, will be allowed to keep their weapons but will have a year to register them with police.

"When there's a pileup of events, when the federal government does not do it, the state of New York has to lead the way," said state Assemblyman Joseph Lentol, a Brooklyn Democrat and co-sponsor.

In addition to outlawing a broader array of military-style weapons, the measure restricts ammunition magazines to seven bullets, down from the current 10, creates a more comprehensive database of people barred from owning guns, and makes New York the first state to require background checks to buy bullets. The system will also help flag customers who buy large amounts of ammo.

In another provision, therapists, doctors and other mental health professionals will be required to tell state authorities if a patient threatens to use a gun illegally. The patient's weapon could then be taken away.

Richard Aborn, president of the Citizens Crime Commission of New York City, said Cuomo clearly understood gun violence is a complex issue requiring solutions more comprehensive than simply banning a particular weapon.

"I think that's an important message for the nation," he said.

In a statement, the National Rifle Association said: "These gun control schemes have failed in the past and will have no impact on public safety and crime."

"While lawmakers could have taken a step toward strengthening mental health reporting and focusing on criminals, they opted for trampling the rights of law-abiding gun owners in New York, and they did it under a veil of secrecy in the dark of night," the NRA said.

President Barack Obama will unveil his own proposals in response to the Newtown tragedy on Wednesday. He favors sweeping gun legislation, including a ban on assault weapons. But because of powerful opposition from the gun lobby, he is said to be weighing 19 steps he could take through executive action alone.

Those could include ordering stricter action against people who lie on gun-sale background checks, seeking to ensure more complete records in the federal database, and striking limits on federal research into gun use.

New York's law passed the state Senate, which is run by a Republican-dominated coalition, 43-18 Monday night. The Democrat-controlled Assembly approved it 104-43 Tuesday afternoon.

Republicans complained the measure was rammed through the Legislature and infringes on the Second Amendment right to bear arms.

"A lot of people say, `Why do you need these guns?'" said Assemblyman James Tedisco, a Schenectady Republican. "It's part of the freedoms and liberties we have. ... It's for our public safety. It's to protect us from our own government."

He said the bill was dangerous because it would give people a "false sense of well-being."

"You are using innocent children killed by a madman for your own political agenda," he said. "You are actually making people less safe."

Tom King, president of the New York State Rifle & Pistol Association, questioned whether other states or the federal government would follow New York's lead and said he expects the law to be challenged in court.

Previously, New York state law on assault weapons banned semiautomatics that have detachable magazines and at least two military-type features, such as a pistol grip, folding stock, muzzle flash suppressor or bayonet mount. The new law will reduce that to just one feature.

It also requires background checks for even private gun sales, except those among immediate family.

In addition, it says handgun owners must renew their licenses every five years, and it increases prison sentences for using guns in various crimes or taking them on school grounds.

In a concession to the gun industry, local authorities will be allowed to withhold the identities of registered gun owners - an issue that erupted recently when a suburban New York City newspaper published the names and addresses of gun owners in its readership area.

"By making this a priority, the governor has not only saved lives but will hopefully inspire leaders in Washington also to take swift action," said Dan Gross, president of the national Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.

The New York legislation sparked spirited discussion among customers at the Buffalo Gun Center in the suburb of Cheektowaga, where business was so brisk that people had to wait in line in freezing temperatures just to get in the door.

"It's ridiculous. It's absolutely - how to put it nicely - it's Prince Andrew Cuomo's bid for the White House," said Jim Hanley of Angola, who was waiting to buy another handgun. "I want to do it before the right is taken away. Andrew Cuomo and Barack Hussein Obama are two best gun salesmen in the history of the world."

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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, calling for a stricter assault weapons ban and provisions to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill who make threats.

"This is a scourge on society," Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Monday night, six days after making gun control a centerpiece of his agenda in his State of the State address. The bipartisan effort was fueled by the Newtown tragedy that took the lives of 20 first graders and six educators. "At what point do you say, `No more innocent loss of life'?"

The measure also calls for restrictions on ammunition and the sale of guns. It is expected to pass Tuesday.

"This is not about taking anyone's rights away," said Sen. Jeffrey 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."

Under current state law, assault weapons are defined by having two "military rifle" features, such as folding stock, muzzle flash suppressor or bayonet mount. The proposal would reduce that to one feature, including the popular pistol grip. The language specifically targeted the military-style rifle used in the Newtown shootings.

Current owners of those guns will have to register them.

Private sales of assault weapons to someone other than an immediate family would be subject to a background check through a dealer. New Yorkers also would be barred from buying assault weapons over the Internet, and failing to safely store a weapon could lead 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.

Stores that sell ammunition will have to register with the state, run background checks on buyers of bullets and keep an electronic database of bullet sales.

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 it to a mental health director who would have to notify the state. 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.

The measure 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 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.

Cuomo said he wanted quick action to avoid a run on assault weapons and ammunition. He estimates there are already 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."

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.

The bill was 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.


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