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N.Y. gets tougher on guns

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By Gannett News Service
Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2013, 7:42 p.m.

ALBANY, N.Y. — New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a package of tougher gun measures on Tuesday, soon after the state Assembly voted to bolster the state's ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.

The Democrat-dominated Assembly passed the provision by a 104-43 vote. The state Senate approved it by a wide margin late Monday.

The signing makes New York the first state to enact tighter restrictions on guns since the Dec. 14 massacre in Newtown, Conn., in which 28 people died including 20 children.

“What we're saying today is some of these weapons is beyond what we believe to be reasonable for purchase for New Yorkers,” said Assemblyman Brian Kavanagh, a Manhattan Democrat who chairs the state chapter of State Legislators Against Illegal Guns.

The gun-control package makes changes and additions to a broad swath of state law, ranging from requiring universal background checks for all gun and ammunition sales, boosting the state's power to confiscate firearms from the mentally ill and increasing penalties for gun-related crime.

The new laws provide for an immediate ban on semi-automatic rifles, shotguns and pistols with a “military-style feature,” such as a flash suppressor or a bayonet mount. Guns that had been legal but are being banned would be grandfathered in, but their owners must register with the state.

Magazines are limited to a maximum capacity of seven bullets, down from the current 10.

The legislation includes a “Webster provision,” a life-without-parole sentence for anyone found to have killed a first responder. The provision is a reference to the Christmas Eve shooting in a Rochester, N.Y., suburb where two firefighters were shot and killed.

Another provision permits gun licensees to opt out of having their personal information available to the public under the state's Freedom of Information law. It was inserted in response to a controversy that erupted when The (Westchester, N.Y.) Journal News published an interactive map with names and addresses of handgun permit holders in two suburban New York counties.

For the first 120 days of the new law, no information on gun licenses will be available to the public, then the opt-out provision will take effect. People who have licenses will be able to fill out a form at their county clerks' offices to opt out.

The Assembly's debate on the package stretched for more than 4½ hours on Tuesday. Various Republicans expressed dissatisfaction with it and with Cuomo's decision to allow a vote without the mandatory three-day aging period. Cuomo issued a “message of necessity,” which allows lawmakers to vote on a bill immediately after it is introduced.

Assemblyman Steve Katz, a Republican from the New York City suburb of Yorktown, said the bill — known as the New York Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act, or NY SAFE — is based on Cuomo's “misguided, egotistic notion that this will advance his presidential aspirations.”

“Why are we being bullied into voting on this bill without proper, responsible due diligence?” Katz asked.

Others have accused Cuomo of trying to seize headlines by rushing a bill through the Legislature to become the first state to act after Newtown.

“Cuomo seized the opportunity to exploit tragedy and put his own personal politics ahead of sound public policy,” the National Rifle Association wrote in an alert sent to its members.

Cuomo defended his decision to issue the “message of necessity,” which he said was in part to prevent a run on sales of soon-to-be-banned assault weapons, he said.

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