Photo Courtesy: Joe Spector, Gannett Albany
By Joseph Spector
Albany Bureau Chief
ALBANY, N.Y. -- Gun-rights groups and gun-control advocates rallied at the state Capitol on Tuesday after the Legislature passed a strong gun law last month that puts added restrictions on gun sales and ownership.
Hundreds of opponents of the gun law championed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo protested outside, chanting "Freedom" and "Proud Americans."
Former Republican gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino, a Buffalo business owner who ran against Cuomo in 2010, led a chant of "Cuomo's gotta go." He criticized the law, which Cuomo signed on Jan. 15.
"It's not about shooting deer. It's about a right that we have that we're not going to give up," Paladino said. "We're standing here in the belly of the beast, and they are hearing us."
He added, "The people are paying attention on how they do things in this town and how reckless they are with our rights."
A gun-control advocacy group, One Million Moms for Gun Control, held a news conference inside the Capitol in support of the new law with about 75 people. The group is calling for similar measures on the federal level.
The state law puts tighter restrictions on gun sales, adds new reporting requirements on gun owners, expands an assault-weapons ban and limits the number of bullets in a magazine from 10 to seven.
"The polls show that I am one of the overwhelming majority of New Yorkers who believe that keeping our state safe from gun violence means looking to the laws to help us do so," said Kim Russell, a victim of gun violence and a founding member of the group who lives in Brooklyn.
Raini Baudendistel, executive director of the Crime Victims Assistance Center in Binghamton, said she understands a person's right to own a gun, but she said assault weapons are unnecessary. The center assisted families and victims after a lone gunman killed 13 people in the city in 2009.
"I've personally and professionally seen no good come of anyone having an assault weapon," Baudendistel said.
Cuomo has defended the new law, saying it is not aimed at law-abiding gun owners and will make New York safer. New York passed the first and toughest gun law in the nation after the Newtown, Conn, school shootings in December.
"I understand the politics of it, but I'm very proud that this state passed a comprehensive, common sense gun-control law that is reasonable, that is balanced, that does not affect hunters, does not affect sportsmen," Cuomo told reporters in Poughkeepsie. "It's about keeping guns out of the hands of the mentally ill, about keeping the guns out of the hands of criminals. And that, everybody should be able to agree on."
Gun-rights advocates said the law is an infringement of their Second Amendment rights. The state's Rifle & Pistol Association is planning to sue the state, claiming the law is unconstitutional.
"I'm glad to see a lot of people standing up for their rights. If we lose the Second Amendment, we lose everything," said Sheila Charmak, of Tappan, Rockland County, at the rally. "The governor has overstepped his bounds. We have a right to protect ourselves."
Sen. Greg Ball, R-Patterson Putnam County, accused Cuomo of passing the measure to advance his political career. Cuomo, a Democrat, has been viewed as a potential presidential candidate in 2016.
"This piece of legislation that was rammed down our throats had one goal - that man there: Governor Cuomo's intent on being president of the United States," Ball said, pointing to the Capitol.
Asked about 2016 during a visit to Rockland County, Cuomo said: "I'm not thinking about 2016. I'm thinking about this year. I'm thinking about this week."
Gun-rights groups said they want a repeal of the law. Sen. Thomas O'Mara, R-Big Flats, Chemung County, said he would at least like to see some amendments to the law, such as repealing the restriction of seven bullets in a magazine.
"I think this will do nothing to solve our violent gun problems that we have," O'Mara said of the law while attending the rally. "It's the criminals who use the illegal guns that's the problem, not law-abiding citizens. These rallies are important to make that message loud and clear in Albany."
Assemblyman Brian Kavanagh, D-Manhattan, a sponsor of the so-called NY-SAFE Act, said lawmakers would not vote in favor of a repeal of the law sought by opponents. Polls have shown that a majority of New Yorkers support the law.
"Most people in our country recognize that firearms, whatever their value as protection, are also very dangerous instruments, and reasonable regulation ought to be in place to make sure that we minimize gun violence," he said.