NY Pols Taking Lead in Renewed Gun Control Debate

Andrew Cuomo State of the State
Andrew Cuomo State of the State
Gov. Andrew Cuomo gave his State of the State address in Albany on Wednesday.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo gave his State of the State address in Albany on Wednesday.

The gun control debate got a shot in the arm this week when a school shooting broke out during a White House task force meeting on the issue the day after Gov. Andrew Cuomo urged New York to pass the nation’s toughest firearms regulations.

Proposed re-enactment of the federal ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines that expired in 2004 is at the forefront of the current debate. But pro-gun lobbyists shot down such regulations as an infringement of the Second Amendment right to bear arms. Emotions continue to run high on both sides.

“There has got to be some common ground, to not solve every problem but diminish the probability” of future mass shootings, Vice President Joe Biden said Thursday. “That’s what this is all about.”

Biden was meeting with a group of hunting organizations when a 16-year-old armed with a shotgun critically wounded a fellow student in a California high school. The task force was formed after a gunman massacred 20 school children and six staffers at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. last month.

The National Rifle Association, whose leader has proposed armed guards in every school—although in the latest case, the school’s armed guard was snowed in at home—characterized the meeting as “disappointing” and said it will work with Congress instead.

“No one hunts with an assault rifle,” Cuomo said Wednesday while unveiling his gun-control package. “No one needs 10 bullets to kill a deer. And too many innocent people have died already. End the madness now!”

He proposed banning gun clips manufactured before 1994 that hold more than 10 bullets—hardware used by the Newtown gunman and other mass murderers—modernizing the pistol permitting process to ensure felons and others barred from owning handguns don’t fall through the cracks.

Cuomo also gave a nod to the NRA and conservatives such as state Senate Republican Conference Leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre), who have suggested the gun control conversation falls short without addressing mental health and stricter punishments.

“There is no doubt that illegal guns are a major threat to public safety—but it is not the only one,” Skelos said after Cuomo laid out his plans in his State of the State address. “More frequently we are reading about crimes committed by people with a history of mental illness who may not be getting the treatment they need.”

The governor’s package includes enhanced sentencing guidelines for those convicted of using illegal guns, which mirrors a series of proposals Skelos unveiled last week. Cuomo also plans to propose measures to ensure mental health professionals alert authorities when they become aware a gun owner is likely to cause harm.

In addition, he also wants to close a loophole that allows private gun owners to sell guns to others without the buyer being subject to the background checks they would face when making a purchase from a licensed gun dealer.

On the federal level, New York Sens. Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand are calling on Biden to include measures to crackdown on illegal guns and strengthen background checks into his final recommendations.

The senators are pushing bills mandating that states share records on felons, drug abusers and those seriously mentally ill to be used in background checks for gun buyers. They also are pushing a bill cracking down on trafficking firearms into New York.

Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-Mineola) is also reintroducing her legislation to ban high-capacity ammunition magazines for guns—a bill that is likely to be part of the Newtown task force’s recommendations Tuesday to President Obama.

McCarthy has devoted her political career to combating gun violence after her husband was murdered and son critically injured during the 1993 Long Island Railroad massacre. Rep. Diana Degette (D-Colo), whose district includes the infamous Columbine High School and is adjacent to Aurora—where a gunman murdered 12 people and wounded nearly 60 others at a movie theater last summer—is cosponsoring the legislation.

“These devices are used to kill as many people as possible in the shortest amount of time possible and we owe it to innocent Americans everywhere to keep them out of the hands of dangerous people,” said McCarthy. “We don’t even allow hunters to use them—something’s deeply wrong if we’re protecting game more than we’re protecting innocent human beings.”

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