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Who knew that the National Rifle Association would end up as Andrew Cuomo's best friend?

Sensible gun owners have only the NRA to blame if it seems that politicians such as New York's governor are moving too far, too fast to restrict gun rights.

As Cuomo raced to be the first presidential hopeful on his block to have an assault weapons ban – and bragging rights for the smallest ammo clip – gun lovers shouldn't fume just at him.

If NRA leaders had been more reasonable, there could be middle-ground solutions. But their tone-deaf response to the Newtown tragedy created an atmosphere in which almost anything from gun-control advocates sounds sane by comparison. Even so, parts of the new law seem as much about politics as about public safety.

Cuomo's “one feature” assault weapons restriction goes beyond the old federal ban on guns with two or more military-style features. Granted, there's no legitimate civilian use for flash suppressors. But seriously, how many are used in mass shootings?

The bottom line remains. All semiautomatics – from my Ruger .22-caliber Mark II pistol to a semiautomatic hunting rifle to the Newtown shooter's AR-15-style .223 – operate essentially the same: One pull of the trigger fires one bullet. Beyond that, the FBI's 2011 Uniform Crime Reports show that rifles – all kinds, not just assault rifles – accounted for only 3.8 percent of gun deaths. In fact, twice as many people died from fistfights – 728 – as the 323 killed by rifles.

In short, it's not the guns themselves.

That's why researchers for the U.S. Department of Justice said that the effects of the 1994 federal assault weapons ban were “small at best” and that any effect was offset by more use of other guns with large-capacity magazines.

Banning the guns is for show. Banning 30-round magazines makes sense – though not to everyone. “Changing a magazine takes about 2 seconds, … so it doesn't really matter,” notes Harold “Budd” Schroeder, of Lancaster, chairman of the statewide Shooters Committee on Political Education. He's right about the timing. But maybe in those few seconds, someone can intervene.

Yet even on magazines, Cuomo's PR thirst is obvious in his seven-round limit, three less than in laws elsewhere.

My Ruger magazine holds 10 bullets. But I guess if I hear someone breaking in at night, I should load only seven. If I shoot the intruder eight times, I'll be breaking the law. It's the stuff of which “Saturday Night Live” skits are made.

Still, much proposed by Cuomo and President Obama makes good sense – such as universal background checks, mental health registries, and crackdowns on trafficking that floods cities with the handguns used in most murders. The hype on “assault weapons” in the media and video games also must be addressed.

Yet gun bans draw most of the attention. Legislative overreach becomes publicly acceptable when the other side is so unyielding. Now, I wonder if the NRA has set the stage for its worst fear.

I used to laugh when “gun nuts” said the ultimate aim of new laws was to eliminate most gun rights. I'm not laughing today.

Given the functional equivalency of banned “assault weapons” and other semiautomatics, if crazed mass shooters do turn to those other guns, what's next?

email: rwatson@buffnews.com