New York has become the first state to dramatically stiffen its gun laws after last month's school shooting in Newtown, Conn. passing a tougher assault weapons ban and provisions to try to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill who make threats.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo pushed hard for the bill, which passed the Senate on Monday night and the Assembly on Tuesday. He quickly signed the measure into law.
"This is a scourge on society," Cuomo said Monday night, six days after making gun control a centerpiece of his State of the State address. The bipartisan effort was fueled by the Newtown tragedy that took the lives of 20 first graders and six educators. "At what point do you say, 'No more innocent loss of life'?"
The measure, which passed the Assembly 104-43, also calls for restrictions on ammunition and the sale of guns. Some lawmakers assailed Cuomo for pushing the bill through in secret and with little oversight or debate.
"This is not about taking anyone's rights away," said Sen. Jeffrey Klein, a Bronx Democrat, when the bill passed the Senate late Monday night. "It's about a safe society ... today we are setting the mark for the rest of the county to do what's right."
Under current state law, assault weapons are defined by having two "military rifle" features such as folding stock, muzzle flash suppressor or bayonet mount. The proposal reduces that to one feature and includes the popular pistol grip.
Private sales of assault weapons to someone other than an immediate family will be subject to a background check through a dealer. New Yorkers also would be barred from buying assault weapons over the Internet, and failing to safely store a weapon could lead to a misdemeanor charge.
Ammunition magazines will be restricted to seven bullets, from the current 10, and current owners of higher-capacity magazines will have a year to sell them out of state. An owner caught at home with eight or more bullets in a magazine will face a misdemeanor charge.
Another provision places requirements on therapists, psychologists, registered nurses and licensed social workers who believe a mental health patient made a credible threat to use a gun illegally. They would be required to report such a threat to a mental health director, who would have to notify the state. Any registered handguns — or registered assault weapons purchased before the ban — could be taken from the patient.
The legislation also increases sentences for gun crimes including the shooting of a first responder that Cuomo called the "Webster provision." Last month in Webster, two firefighters were killed after responding to a fire set by the shooter, who eventually killed himself.
The measure passed the Senate 43-18 on the strength of support from Democrats, many of whom previously sponsored bills that were once blocked by Republicans.
The governor confirmed the proposal, previously worked out in closed session, also mandate a police registry of assault weapons, grandfathering in the estimated 1 million assault weapons already in private hands.
It was agreed upon exactly a month since the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy.
"It is well-balanced, it protects the Second Amendment," said Senate Republican leader Dean Skelos of Long Island.
Cuomo said he wanted quick action to avoid a run on assault weapons and ammunition.
Assemblyman Steve Katz said legislators were being "bullied." He said the bill is "solely for the governor's egotistical, misguided notion."
Republicans argued the bill wouldn't stop mass shootings or other gun crimes but instead turns law-abiding into potential criminals.
Republican Assemblyman James Tedisco said the bill was dangerous because it would give people a "false sense of well-being."
"You are using innocent children killed by a mad man for own political agenda," he said. "You are actually making people less safe."