New York lawmakers swiftly enacted Tuesday a comprehensive plan to reduce the firepower available to criminals and daily incidents of gun violence in the state.
With few committee hearings and public discussion in Albany this week regarding the bill which calls for enforcement of a tougher assault weapons ban and tighter restrictions against mental health patients gaining access to guns, New York became the first state since the Newtown, Conn., tragedy to pass tighter gun legislation.
Introduced by Gov. Andrew Cuomo Monday, the bill passed the Senate 43-18 Monday night. It cleared the Democrat-led Assembly 104-43 on Tuesday. Gov. Cuomo is expected to sign the bill into law.
Known as the NY SAFE Act, the bill increases penalties for criminal and negligent gun use, institutes background checks on all gun sales and transfers, bans assault weapons and high capacity magazines for civilian use, strengthens databases for the mentally ill and aims to prevent their access to firearms.
A ban on ammunition clips with more than seven bullets and stricter regulation of military-style assault rifles is written in the bill that lawmakers say was drafted to respect those who wish to have weapons suitable for hunting and other uses.
The law requires health and mental health professionals to report when patients may present a danger of committing violence against themselves or others.
Calling it a "page in history," Assemblywoman Michelle Schimel, a longtime gun control advocate, said she stands with Gov. Cuomo and legislative leaders who approved the measure in Albany.
"This unprecedented broad based approach unifies and strengthens existing New York laws making them the strongest in our nation, while recognizing the Second Amendment rights of the lawful gun owner," said Schimel, D-Great Neck.
State Sen. Jack Martins, who voted in favor of the bill Monday, said last week that lawmakers have a responsibility to review gun laws and to close loopholes in the definition of assault weapons but the proposal will not meaningfully change the status quo.
"It seems like an obvious fix on paper, but in reality, it isn’t," said Martins, R-Mineola, in a statement Jan. 10. "In fact, it will likely have very little effect on gun violence in New York, and at that point, the opportunity to effect real change will have been lost."
Eight of nine Long Island Republican state senators voted for bill Monday. Lee Zeldin, R-Shirley, missed the vote.
The National Rifle Association in a statement Tuesday said the governor and 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."
Calling the bill draconian, the NRA said such gun control "schemes" have failed in the past and will have no impact on public safety and crime.
"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," said the NRA.
Like the NRA, Sen. Martins suggested passage of the law might appease Cuomo's efforts for a possible presidential run, but it hesitates when it comes to punishing the criminals who break gun laws.
Cuomo's plan offers no serious discussion about the lack of consequences for illegal gun crimes which account for 80 percent the problem, according to Martins.
The bill increases the penalty for possession of a firearm on school grounds or on a school bus from a misdemeanor to a Class E Felony and creates a new subdivision of criminal possession of a weapon in the third degree, a Class D violent felony when a person possesses an unloaded firearm and also commits a drug trafficking felony or possesses an unloaded firearm and also commits any violent felony as part of the same criminal transaction.
The mandatory minimum sentence for these new Class D felonies is a three and one-half year determinate sentence — although the court may consider may impose a lesser sentence in some circumstances involving drug trafficking.
The bill requires for safe storage when someone who would be prohibited from owning firearms lives in the same household with a legal gun owner and that pistol permit holders be recertified every five years.
The bill creates a Class A-1 felony for cases when organized violent gangs commit certain combinations of offenses including a pattern of criminal activity; and addresses the issue of "straw purchasers" where individuals who are not prohibited by law to purchase weapons do so for others.
Those purchasing guns in New York will now be required under the new gun legislation, universal criminal and mental health checks on all sales of firearms will be required of gun purchasers.