By: Joseph Spector, Albany Bureau
ALBANY, N.Y. - In 1911, New York passed the Sullivan law, one of the first gun-control laws in the nation that required a permit to own a handgun.
Now, more than a century later, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg have become national players in the push for tougher gun laws, putting New York at the forefront of the gun-control debate.
While the White House works on its own plans to seek to curb gun violence after the school shootings in Newtown, Conn., New York is forging ahead quickly with its own proposal. Cuomo, a Democrat and potential 2016 presidential candidate, has vowed to pass the toughest gun-control measures in the country. State lawmakers are hoping to pass a new set of laws as early as news week, which would make it the first state to do so since the Connecticut shootings.
"Gun violence has been on a rampage, as we know first hand, and we know painfully," Cuomo said in the annual State of the State address Wednesday. "We must stop the madness, my friends, and in one word, it's just enough. It has been enough."
Cuomo is pressing lawmakers, including Republicans who control the state Senate, to support his agenda.
"To be blind to this issue and the number of tragedies and the amount of bloodshed, I think would be dereliction of your public service responsibility," he said Thursday.
Those efforts, though, are drawing increasing resistance from gun-rights advocates. The National Rifle Association issued a statement Wednesday saying, "America's most anti-gun governor hails from the same state as the nation's most anti-gun mayor."
The group argued that New York already has among the toughest gun laws in the nation, including an assault-rifle ban and a 10-round magazine capacity limit. The NRA on its website said New York is trying to move quickly in order to diminish public debate.
New York lawmakers are proposing to expand the assault-rifle ban to include all high-capacity magazines. Currently, high-capacity magazines are banned in New York unless they were manufactured before 1994, a loophole that Cuomo wants to close. Lawmakers also want to reduce the number of bullets in a magazine from 10 to seven, which would be the most stringent limit in the nation.
Bloomberg and Cuomo haven't always agreed on state policy, but they appear to be in sync on the gun-control issue.
"New York state has led the nation with strong, common-sense gun laws, and the governor's new proposals will build on that tradition," Bloomberg, an independent who heads the group Mayors Against Illegal Guns, said Wednesday. "They will help law enforcement keep guns out of the hands of criminals and other dangerous people and save lives."
Other Democratic governors are pursuing also tougher gun laws. On Thursday, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper proposed universal background checks for gun sales. Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy has set up a panel to make proposals by March.
New York, with nearly 19.5 million people the third largest state in the U.S., ranked 24th in the nation for its murder rate in 2010, federal statistics show, and slightly below the national average. Last month, Bloomberg announced that the number of murders in the city was the lowest since records started being kept 50 years ago.
The debate over gun laws in New York has expanded to media coverage. The Journal News in Westchester County, like USA TODAY, a Gannett Co. Inc. publication, has been under heavy criticism for publishing an interactive map of the names and addresses of pistol-permit holders in the northern New York City suburbs. Putnam County has refused a request to release its list of pistol-permit holders and has vowed to fight the newspaper in court, saying the information's release would jeopardize safety. Good-government groups defended the newspaper, saying the information is public.
Some lawmakers want a state law that would make the pistol-permit information private, but Cuomo has not included the measure in his gun-control package.
"I'll leave it to the local government to make their interpretation of the law," Cuomo said Thursday. "And my guess is in these cases, the court will wind up deciding."
Republicans and conservatives in New York are focusing on tougher laws on illegal guns, saying the shootings in Newtown and another in Webster, N.Y., on Christmas Eve when four volunteer firefighters were shot, killing two, in an ambush shouldn't be linked to law-abiding gun owners.
"Any further restrictions on legal gun ownership in New York state will jeopardize the safety of all New York's citizens," the state's Conservative Party said in a memo to legislators Friday. "The best solution to end indefensible terroristic acts is to prosecute to the fullest extent possible all those who use illegal guns."