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New York Assault Weapons Ban Will Be One of the Strictest in the Nation, and the First Since Newtown

A bipartisan group of New York state senators is expected to push some of the nation’s strictest gun laws on Monday, nearing a deal with Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo to pass proposals issuing further restrictions on firearms in the state.

Approval of the laws would make New York the first state to pass a law specifically targeting gun violence following the Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shootings in Newtown, Connecticut in December. Monday was the first day of session for the newly opened legislative session in Albany, and opened with a moment of silence.

While lawmakers are still debating fine points of the law – such as how state funds will be allocated to protect schools against active shooters – it is clear that the bill will impose strict regulations on gun ownership.

The laws will also be the first test of a new power structure in the state capitol: the rise of a bipartisan coalition of Republicans and several independent Democrats who control the Senate. Passing the bill so quickly in a bipartisan fashion is unusual for Albany’s famously dysfunctional legislature.

“The clear thing is, we are going to ban assault weapons,” said State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Democrat.

The bill will also limit the maximum ammunition capacity of all gun magazines from 10 to seven rounds, introduce policies to keep the mentally ill away from firearms, increase penalties for gun-related crimes and require background checks for all sales of firearms, including private transactions. It will also create a state gun registry and grandfather in existing firearms, avoiding a costly political battle on gun confiscation.

Republicans wanted the introduction of heightened criminal punishment for use of a gun in the commission of a crime, a measure that Democrats were happy to include.

This “is an issue that shows we can work together, Democrats and Republicans,” said Senator Jeffrey D. Klein, who represents the Bronx and leads the group of five breakaway Democrats who have allied with the senate GOP. “Reublicans, it’s very clear, wanted harsher criminal penalties for illegal guns, which is something I agree with, but on the other hand we’re also going to ban assault weapons and limit the number of rounds in a magazine. So I think putting those two things together makes it a better bill.”

Silver said prompt passage of the bill was necessitated by recent shootings, which he characterized as generating a state of emergency. Doing so apparently requires getting the governor to sign a “message of necessity” that will dispense with the three days of public review normally needed to pass a law.

“I think the message out there is clear after Newtown and to get us down this road as quickly as possible to basically eradicate assault weapons from our streets in New York as quickly as possible is something the people of our state want. It's an important thing to do. It is an emergency,” Silver said. 

The law should clear the Democrat-controlled Assembly easily, but may falter in the Senate, where a strong Republican Party presence may mean a rockier passage.

Former Republican Sen. Michael Balboni said upstate legislators view the gun issue with the same passion that liberals fight for gay marriage. He noted that “gun advocates see these incidents as almost cyclical and that in the wake of a national shooting incident, they have seen repeated calls for control. They view it as a slippery slope to the banning and confiscation of weapons.”

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