Debate Underway About Tougher Gun Laws

1:12 AM, Jan 10, 2013   |    comments
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ALBANY, NY - Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Wednesday called for the "toughest assault weapon ban in the nation," using his State of the State address to lay out a seven-point plan for reforming New York's gun laws.

Using a mix of specific proposals and broad language, Cuomo said the state must end "the risk of unnecessary, high-capacity assault rifles," without targeting hunters and sportsmen.

"Gun violence has been on a rampage as we know firsthand, and we know painfully," said Cuomo, who owns a Remington shotgun. "We must stop the madness, my friends, and in one word, it's just enough. It has been enough."

Cuomo's vision is to ban all magazines with a capacity of more than 10 bullets. Currently, high-capacity magazines are banned in the state unless they were manufactured before 1994.

Some lawmakers say that the state's laws on guns need to be tougher, while others say that few changes are needed.

Some Republican lawmakers, who suspect that the ban may infringe on Second Amendment rights are wary of the proposal. "This is a very far reaching plan that he discussed in terms of ammunition, in terms of assault weapons, in terms of the mentally ill," said State Sen. Michael Ranzenhofer of the 61st District.

Sen. James Seward, a Republican from Milford, Otsego County, said the governor's proposal might alienate gun owners and manufacturers. Remington Arms operates a plant in Ilion, which is in Seward's district.

"We need a balanced approach to help us to maintain those 1,000-plus jobs at Remington Arms in Ilion and also to maintain the interests of law-abiding legitimate gun owners," Seward said after the speech. "I think we can solve this problem of creating safer schools, safer communities, without ruining Remington Arms.

The Democratic governor did not lay out specifics for what an acceptable assault-weapons ban would entail. The state's current ban includes semi-automatic rifles, but only if they include a certain combination of accessories, such as a bayonet and a flash suppressor.

"We need a gun policy in this state that is reasonable, that is balanced, that is measured," Cuomo said. "We respect hunters and sportsmen. This is not taking people's guns."

However, he did announce some strong principles. The most rigorous include state or federal background checks on private sales of guns, a ban on high capacity magazines and keeping guns from people who are mentally ill. The governor says that law enforcement would be able to take someone's gun away if a medical professional found the person to be mentally ill.

"When you have these military style assault rifles in the hands of individuals that shouldn't have them, many of them that are mentally ill, go out and kill innocent folks, that's what we're trying to crack down on," said State Sen. Timothy Kennedy, a Democrat.

There is bipartisan support for this.

"Illegal weapons getting in the hands of somebody who shouldn't have them a criminal or somebody who has mental health issues and I'm glad he addressed that," said State Sen. Patrick Gallivan, a Republican who represents the 59th District.

Rochester police chief James Sheppard, who spoke before the governor at Wednesday's event, said he thought the governor's proposals were fair and would not offend law-abiding gun owners.

In addition to asking Sheppard to speak, Cuomo honored the families of two Webster, Monroe County, firefighters who were killed in a Christmas Eve shooting. Cuomo gave the officers' families New York flags. The recent massacres in Connecticut and Webster are driving the debate.

"You just can't stand back, the way things are," Sheppard said after the speech. "You have to do something to make a difference."

Cuomo has been in negotiations with legislative leaders over the past several weeks to reform the state's gun laws. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Democrat from Manhattan, told reporters Tuesday that a deal on legislation was "achievable."

"Assault weapons are designed to kill as many people as possible, as quickly as possible. We don't need them in New York State. We should ban them," Silver said after the speech.

He said he told members of his conference that there was a possibility the Legislature would vote on gun laws this week or next. Some assembly members are staying overnight in Albany, because they've been told the governor could call them back into session as soon as Thursday to begin the gun control debate. Other lawmakers, will go back to their districts to find out what their constituents want to see happen and also check in with schools and law enforcement. And want to hear from pro and anti-gun groups to get their thoughts.

The governor's plan would also require a background check for all private sales of guns. There would be enhanced penalties for possessing illegal guns -- though Cuomo did not get into specifics -- and reporting by mental-health professionals about the risk of their patients owning a gun.

His proposals would also bolster background checks and registrations for gun holders.

Senate Republicans last weekend released their own plan for the state's gun laws, focusing on increasing penalties for gun crimes and illegally obtained firearms. The GOP has also pushed for a permanent form of "Kendra's Law," which allows courts to order outpatient treatment for the mentally ill.

The governor didn't address the permitting process, or video game violence.

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