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New York leads on tough gun laws

HERB BOYD Special to the AmNews | 1/17/2013, 12:39 p.m.
In his recent State of the State address, Gov. Andrew Cuomo made it explicitly clear...
Ban assault weapons, launch an assault on poverty

In his recent State of the State address, Gov. Andrew Cuomo made it explicitly clear that he was going to put New York back at the forefront of curbing gun violence and that he would draft a tough gun-control law. That promise was kept, and on Tuesday, the Assembly approved the measure, titled the "New York Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act," by a vote of 104-43.

On Monday evening, the state Senate, where the anticipated leadership problem did not surface, passed the bill by a margin of 43-18.

Like many political leaders in the nation, Cuomo was outraged by the tragedy in Newtown, Conn., where 26 people were killed, 20 of them children.

"I believe it's the most comprehensive package in the nation," the governor told reporters Monday evening. New York, for the moment, has taken the lead on an issue that has bedeviled cities and towns for years. Back in 1911, New York paved the way on ending violence with the Sullivan Act.

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman agreed wholeheartedly with the governor and the legislators. "With the passage of this legislation," he said in a press release, "our state has taken decisive action to protect New Yorkers from gun violence. By expanding the state's assault weapons ban, limiting high-capacity magazines and improving background checks, among other measures, the Legislature and Governor Cuomo deserve credit for putting the safety of our communities first.

"I look forward to continuing to work together with my colleagues in government and law enforcement as we seek to expand our efforts to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people."

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. was less enthusiastic, but felt it was a step in the right direction. "Until we can restrict the flow of guns from other states, we have only dealt with part of the problem," he said during an appearance on Brian Lehrer's show on WNYC Tuesday evening.

Later, during an appearance at the National Action Network's annual Dr. Martin Luther King tribute, Vance added, "We need a national agenda on the issue, not a state by state approach."

Mayor Michael Bloomberg also cheered the measure, and like Vance believed national action was necessary on the bill. "What the governor showed was that it was possible to get the law done quickly with bipartisan support," he said, optimistic that President Barack Obama would be equally successful.

Unsurprisingly, the National Rifle Association was not happy about the law. "Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York state Legislature orchestrated a secretive end-run around the legislative and democratic process and passed sweeping anti-gun measures with no committee hearings and no public input," the organization declared in a release. The bill, they insisted, was "hammered out in a backroom in Albany ... [and] quickly drafted and released 20 minutes prior to the Senate vote.

"The legislature caved to the political demands of a governor and helped fuel his personal political aspirations," the statement continued. "New York lawmakers have ignored and excluded gun owners throughout this legislative process, but the NRA and our New York members remain committed to having a meaningful conversation about protecting our children and will speak frankly about the lawmakers who have failed to do so."

"Gun violence is a sad reality that has become a true threat to all communities across this country," said Assemblyman Keith Wright. "The time has come to take whatever steps necessary to keep our children and families safer on the streets, in school or at work. I am pleased to support this necessary legislation and urge all law enforcement officials to maintain the integrity of the New York Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act of 2013 by enforcing it appropriately and protecting all New Yorkers without disproportionately penalizing young Black and Brown men. As the great Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, 'The time is always right to do what is right.' Today, we did what was right for New York."

Shortly before signing the law, Cuomo said, "I am proud to be a New Yorker today. Not just because New York has the first bill, but because New York has the best bill."