New York on Tuesday became the first state in the nation to pass a gun control bill since the Newtown massacre one month ago, with supporters of the legislation haling it as the most comprehensive gun bill in the country.
The measure passed the Assembly 104-43 one day after the State Senate overwhelmingly approved the bill by a vote of 43 to 18.
“I am proud to be a New Yorker today,” said New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo before huddling together with lawmakers and some members of law enforcement as he signed the bill into law just after 5 p.m. “I am proud to be part of this government not because New York has the first bill but because New York has the best bill.”
It may have not been a race but lawmakers in Albany have moved surprisingly swiftly to address the gun control issue since the massacre in Connecticut. The passage came less than a week after Cuomo’s State of the State in which he pushed the Legislature to “end the madness,” referring to recent shootings, including a fatal shooting on Christmas Eve in upstate New York that claimed the lives of two firefighters.
Cuomo, who hasn’t missed an opportunity to remind the public that he’s a gun owner himself—a Remington shotgun, in fact—said the bill isn’t about limiting American’s Second Amendment right but to protect the public from dangerous individuals, including those with mental illness.
“We saw, we learned, we responded and we acted,” Cuomo said Tuesday evening.
The legislation, dubbed NY Safe Act, calls for an immediate ban on assault weapons and makes New York the first state in the nation to ban all pre-1994 high-capacity magazines and any magazine that can hold more than seven rounds. (The previous limit was 10.)
High-capacity magazines that enable people to kill a large number of people in a short period of time are “nonsensical” for a civilized society, Cuomo said.
Under the legislation, semi-automatic pistols and rifles with detachable magazines and one military-style feature will be considered assault weapons. The bill also considers semi-automatic shotguns with one military-style feature an assault weapon.
Lawmakers also looked to limit the access of guns to the mentally ill by requiring therapists to report to local mental health officials when they believe a patient may cause serious harm to themselves or others. The law gives law enforcement the authority to remove the person’s firearm. The person’s license would also be suspended.
Background checks will also be expanded as a result of the bill.
“The old system made no sense,” Cuomo said.
Those who oppose the bill, including the National Rifle Association, criticized lawmakers for rushing the legislation and said it would infringe on the rights of law-abiding gun owners.
“These gun control schemes have failed in the past and will have no impact on public safety and crime. Sadly, the New York Legislature gave no consideration to that reality,” the NRA said in a statement. “While lawmakers could have taken a step toward strengthening mental health reporting and focusing on criminals, they opted for trampling the rights of law-abiding gun owners in New York, and they did it under a veil of secrecy in the dark of night.”
“The legislature caved to the political demands of a Governor and helped fuel his personal political aspirations,” the organization added.
Republican Assemb. James Tedisco (R-Schenectady) also blasted the legislature for pushing the bill through.
“A lot of people say, ‘Why do you need these guns?'” he said, according to The Associated Press. “It’s part of the freedoms and liberties we have. … It’s for our public safety. It’s to protect us from our own government.”
Approval of the legislation comes one day before President Barack Obama is expected to announce his own gun control plans, which were prepared by Vice President Joe Biden.
Obama had enlisted the vice president to head a panel to come up with “common sense” measures to prevent another massacre like the one at Sandy Hook Elementary School one month ago when 20 children and six adults were killed by a madman wielding a semi-automatic weapon.