ALBANY – The State Assembly this afternoon gave final passage to legislation expanding gun control laws, making New York the first state to toughen gun laws in the wake of the Connecticut school gun massacre.
The Assembly’s approval of the bill, mostly along party lines by a 103 to 43 vote in the Democratic-controlled chamber, came after the measure was approved late Monday in the Senate.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo quickly signed bill into law, in part, to prevent a run on gun purchases that will be now be banned immediately with the new law.
“I am proud to be a New Yorker,” Cuomo said before signing the bill in the Capitol’s Red Room.
[Politics Now blog: Only two WNY Assembly members vote in favor of gun bill]
“I am proud ... that New York is taking the lead on this issue because we must prevent and protect our public from the mass destruction that can now take place in literally seconds,” Assembly Codes Committee Chairman Joseph Lentol, a Brooklyn Democrat who ran the floor debate, told his colleagues.
But opponents, led mostly by Republicans but joined by some upstate Democrats, condemned the effort as an assault on the Second Amendment that hurts law-abiding citizens while not doing enough to reduce illegal guns in the state.
Assembly members Crystal Peoples-Stokes and Sean Ryan, both Buffalo Democrats, were the only Western New York lawmakers to vote for the new gun control legislation.
Ryan, a shotgun owner who hunts pheasants, noted during the Assembly floor debate that the new controls will have no effect on hunters.
Assemblyman David DiPietro, R-East Aurora, a freshman lawmaker who represents parts of Erie and Wyoming counties who voted no, called it a “useless, self-serving bill’’ designed to promote Cuomo’s presidential ambitions.
Critics also said the measure was pushed through too quickly without any public hearings or the normal three-day “aging’’ process for new legislation; they noted the bill contains so many technical errors that lawyers were already drafting a piece of clean-up legislation for lawmakers to take up next week.
The New York Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act includes a provision to reduce the size of ammunition magazines from the current 10 bullets to seven, and will expand Kendra’s Law, the mandatory mental health treatment statute named for a Fredonia woman who was pushed to her death in 1999 in front of a New York City subway by someone with a long history of mental illness.
Lawmakers said it will double the mandatory treatment period to up to a year, and require mental health professionals to report to county mental health agencies about those patients they believe could be a danger to others. Counties will then pass that information on to the state’s criminal justice division, which can check to see if that person has a registered weapon, and would move, if so, to confiscate any guns he or she might own.
The new law bans assault weapons, which are defined as weapons with any single characteristic – such as a pistol grip or a telescoping stock or flash suppressors; current state law defines an assault weapon as those with two such characteristics.
The plan will grandfather in those gun owners who legally obtained assault-style weapons either before the 1994 bans were put in place or those who bought them through what lawmakers described as the loopholes being closed in the new deal. But they will not be able to transfer the weapons to other people in New York state, though they can sell them out of state. They also will have to register the weapons with the state within a year. Guns manufactured 50 or more years ago that meet the new definition of an assault weapon will not be covered by the new legislation.
The law will require gun owners to “re-certify’’ with the state police every five years that the original information on their gun license is still valid.
Some gun ownership groups already were suggesting legal challenges could be coming against the measure, and some lawmakers opposed to the legislation accused Cuomo – who did not strongly press for gun control laws until the Connecticut school shootings – of quickly pushing the issue to help promote a possible 2016 White House run; Cuomo has said his interest is to reduce gun violence.
The deal calls for a database of gun registrations now maintained by counties to be handled by the state police. The names of gun owners would not be subject to the state’s Freedom of Information Law. Owners of guns now considered assault weapons will have one year to register their weapons with the state police; failure to do so can lead to a Class A misdemeanor and confiscation of the weapon.
While the size of ammunition magazines sold in New York will be reduced from 10 to seven bullets, gun owners who currently possess the larger capacity magazines can still keep them; but the deal bans the gun owners from placing more than seven rounds in the magazines. The deal also calls for sellers of ammunition to be registered.
An official vote count showing which members of the Assembly voted for and against the gun control bill was not immediately available this afternoon. Senators from Western New York voting for the bill were Democrat Tim Kennedy and Republican Mark Grisanti; those voting against it were Republicans Patrick Gallivan, George Maziarz, Michael Ranzenhofer and Cathy Young.
In the Assembly debate this afternoon, Republicans sharply attacked the measures. “New York state makes it very clear that we cannot infringe any more laws and regulations on law-abiding citizens when it comes to guns,’’ said Assemblyman David DiPietro, a freshman Republican lawmaker who represents parts of Erie and Wyoming counties.
DiPietro said he has heard from troopers and other 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 or if gun owners to not register their assault weapons already owned that are being grandfathered in by the new law.
DiPietro said police have called him to say they are worried about civil disobedience by gun owners who, as seen several years ago in Canada, will not abide by the gun registration provisions. “They fear for their safety,’’ he said in voting against the bill.
But Lentol told lawmakers that DiPietro had not read the bill. “I assure you the state police helped to write this bill ... They’re more concerned than anybody else in our society about the number of assault weapons,’’ Lentol said.
The veteran Brooklyn Democrat said gun owners who fail to follow the new registration procedures could be charged with a Class A misdemeanor. “So nobody’s going to go to their houses for an A misdemeanor,’’ Lentol said of concerns about the safety of police officers.