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New York governor signs post-Newtown gun restrictions into law

Published time: January 15, 2013 17:05
Edited time: January 16, 2013 02:24
AFP Photo / Karen Bleier

AFP Photo / Karen Bleier

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed into law Tuesday gun control legislation banning military-style rifles and imposing tighter restrictions on ammunition. The law includes new stipulatons meant to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill.

The bipartisan measure was passed Monday in a 43-18 vote by the New York Senate, then made it through the Democratic-controlled Assembly 104-43 Tuesday afternoon.

Within an hour of the law's passage through the state legislature, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed it into law, making New York the first state to pass new gun restrictions since the shooting massacre at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, which left 26 people dead, 20 of them young children.

“This is a scourge on society,” Cuomo, who also proposed the legislation, said Monday night about the shooting. “At what point do you say, ‘No more innocent loss of life.’”

In an attempt to reduce gun violence – especially mass shootings – New York legislators have been working together to impose greater restrictions on the sale of deadly weapons. The new law further restricts assault weapons by defining them based on a single feature, rather than two features. Under the replaced state law, assault weapons were defined based on having two “military rifle” features, such as a muzzle flash suppressor, a bayonet mount, a pistol grip, or a folding stock. By reducing the qualifications to only one feature, more guns would be considered “assault weapons” and would therefore subject potential buyers to tighter background checks.

New Yorkers will no longer be able to buy assault weapons over the Internet, will be subjected to a background check in order to make a purchase from a private dealer, and will be charged with a misdemeanor for failure to store their weapon safely.

“This is not about taking anyone’s rights away,” said Bronx Sen. Jeffrey Klein. “It’s about a safe society … today we are setting the mark for the rest of the country to do what’s right.”

The new provision also mandates a police registry of all assault weapons. Current owners are now required by law to register such weapons. New York will now enter all information into a statewide gun registry, altering the current system in which each county or municipality sets its own standard.

New Yorkers are also now limited to purchasing magazines that carry seven bullets, a reduction from the limit of 10.

To reduce the chance of the mentally ill acquiring weapons, therapists who believe their patients might have intentions to use a gun illegally will be required by law to report this to their mental health director, who will then report it to the state Department of Criminal Justice Services.

Additionally, penalties for gun crimes will now be more severe than in the past. Taking a gun to a school, for example, would result in higher sentencing than previously.

Some opponents of tighter gun control regulations believe the changes to the law are unnecessary, and in some cases, unconstitutional.

“We have taken an entire category of firearms that are currently legal in the homes of law-abiding, tax-paying citizens. … We are now turning those law-abiding citizens into criminals,” said New York Sen. Greg Ball.

But Senate Republican leader Dean Skelos of Long Island believes the bill’s restrictions will make the country safer without violating any rights.

“It is well-balanced, it protects the Second Amendment,” he said.

Meanwhile, Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley has created a gun control proposal that is also expected to soon pass the state legislature.

“There is a sickness in our country. That sickness is gun violence,” O’Malley said Monday at a gun violence summit at Johns Hopkins University. “Perhaps there is no way to completely prevent the next Newtown tragedy. But then again, perhaps there is. None of us can predict the future… And, yet, we know every life is valuable.”

Like Cuomo, O’Malley plans to ban military-style “assault weapons” and limit the size of permitted gun magazines. He would also require tighter background checks and take steps to prevent guns from landing in the hands of the mentally ill.

The two governors have been leading figures in the post-Newtown gun control debate. While New York was the first in the nation to adopt tighter regulations after last month’s deadly massacre, other states may soon follow in Cuomo’s footsteps.