New York enacted one of the nation’s strongest gun-control laws Tuesday, even as backers said the impact on gun violence will be limited unless the federal government cracks down on sales of assault weapons and stiffens penalties for crimes committed with guns across all states.
And that’s just part of what President Obama is expected to propose today as he unveils his long-awaited plans for curbing gun violence.
The New York Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act, passed by the State Senate late Monday night, won final approval by the Assembly Tuesday afternoon and was quickly signed into law by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, who wanted several key components to take effect immediately to avoid a run on assault weapons and large-capacity ammunition magazines.
“I am proud to be a New Yorker today,” Cuomo said before signing the bill. “It says common sense can win, and good people can win, and you can actually get government to work … You can overpower extremists with intelligence and with reason and with common sense, and you can make this state a safer state.”
The new measure, approved by the Assembly in a 104-43 vote, makes New York one of the least friendly states for gun owners. In response, Harold W. “Budd” Schroeder, a longtime gun rights advocate from Lancaster, sent out an email identifying the bill as “the rape of gun rights.”
The law strengthens the state ban on assault weapon sales, limits the size of ammo clips to hold no more than seven bullets, mandates that mental health professionals notify authorities of patients deemed dangerous so their guns can be confiscated and creates a new statewide database of handgun and assault weapon owners.
In the aftermath of the recent mass shooting at a Connecticut elementary school and the killing of two Rochester-area firefighters on Christmas Eve, lawmakers said the timing was right for New York to pass such a law – and that it’s time for Washington to act, as well.
“This province should belong to the federal government, … but they haven’t acted, so we believe it’s up to us to lead the way,’’ said Assemblyman Joseph R. Lentol, D-Brooklyn, who took the lead in four hours of debate Tuesday.
Critics said the real targets of the bill will be lawful gun owners, and not those who engage in the exploding illegal gun trade made easier by the hodgepodge of gun laws among the states.
They noted that assault weapons were involved in a fraction of murders in New York last year and that the Connecticut school murders came in a state with assault weapon restrictions.
“We get illusory reforms,” said Assemblyman Raymond W. Walter, a Republican who represents parts of Erie and Niagara counties. He said the new law “will do nothing to make us safer.”
Gun-control advocates said they hope the measure is a harbinger of things to come in Washington. “The comprehensive package passed today in New York represents the kind of solutions that need to be implemented on the federal level,” said Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.
“Many of these solutions, including universal background checks, have tremendous support from Americans across the country and across the political spectrum, including among gun owners and NRA members.”
The package of reforms that Obama plans to unveil today is expected, to some degree, to echo the new law passed in Albany.
Obama is expected to propose a tougher federal assault weapons ban than the one that expired in 2004. Sources close to the administration said he would ask Congress to ban high-capacity clips and require universal background checks for gun buyers, thereby eliminating a loophole that lets many people buy weapons at gun shows without background checks.
Also, Obama is expected to unveil at least a dozen executive orders that he can issue, without a role by Congress, to curb the gun trade, mostly involving tougher enforcement of current laws. Notably, he expected to announce a crackdown on gun trafficking. Many, if not all, of those proposals will face an onslaught from the National Rifle Association and other gun rights activists.
“The likelihood is that they are not going to be able to get an assault-weapons ban through this Congress,” NRA President David A. Keene told CNN earlier this week.
One of the House’s foremost supporters of gun control, Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, D-N.Y., agreed, telling the Associated Press: “We’re not going to get an outright ban.” But McCarthy – who attended a White House meeting on the plan Monday – said the Obama proposal would be comprehensive and effective.
“We’re taking a holistic approach to the problem, looking at not just our commerce and safety regulations on weapons but also at our mental health, judicial and education systems,” she said. “We will not let fearmongering about taking away Second Amendment rights – which are the law of the land – deter Washington from taking reasonable and lawful measures to save innocent lives.”
The fierceness of the opposition Obama will face, though, became clear in a statement from Rep. Steve Stockman, R-Texas, who threatened to begin impeachment proceedings against the president in response to the executive actions that Obama was planning.
“The president’s actions are an existential threat to this nation,” Stockman said in a statement. “The very purpose of the Second Amendment is to stop the government from disallowing people the means to defend themselves against tyranny. Any proposal to abuse executive power and infringe upon gun rights must be repelled with the stiffest legislative force possible.”
The debate in Washington serves as a sequel to the one in New York that pitted downstate Assembly Democrats against upstaters.
Among Western New York Assembly members, only two – Sean M. Ryan and Crystal D. Peoples-Stokes, both Buffalo Democrats – voted for the bill.
In Tuesday’s Assembly floor debate, Steve McLaughlin, an Albany-area Republican, said the law does nothing to deal with the weapon of choice for most street crimes: handguns. “The criminals will laugh at this law,” he said.
Critics noted that Cuomo rushed the bill onto the floor so fast – bypassing the usual three-day waiting period – that amendments already were being drafted to correct a number of mistakes.
Assemblyman David J. DiPietro, a freshman lawmaker who represents parts of Erie and Wyoming counties, said he has heard from police concerned about provisions that would require guns to be turned in if, for example, someone is deemed by mental health professionals to be a threat to society.
DiPietro said police have called him to say they are worried about civil disobedience by gun owners who will not abide by the gun-registration provisions. “They fear for their safety,” he said of law enforcement officers who have called him.
But Lentol told lawmakers that DiPietro had not read the bill. “I assure you the State Police helped to write this bill,” he said. “… They’re more concerned than anybody else in our society about the number of assault weapons.”
State’s new gun law / Highlights of Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act
Assault weapons: Expands current ban on semiautomatic rifles.
Grandfather clause: Current owners may keep assault weapons but must register them for state database.
Private sales: Current owners cannot sell or give assault weapons in New York but may sell them out of state.
Background checks: Private gun buyers must undergo federal background check.
Ammunition: Magazines restricted to seven bullets, down from the present maximum of 10.
Mental health: Care professionals are required to report to authorities any of their patients who may pose a danger to themselves or to others; weapons may be seized from such people.
Tracking of sales: Real-time tracking for large purchases of ammunition.
Crimes: Stronger penalties for offenses committed with firearms.
Schools: Additional money for school safety.
Precious reported from Albany, and Zremski from Washington. email: email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org