New York The First State To Pass Gun Control Measures After Newtown Shootings
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Tomorrow, President Obama is scheduled to unveil a much-anticipated plan to combat gun violence, but New York couldn't wait.
GOVERNOR ANDREW CUOMO: We can strike back and we can defend ourselves, but we're going to do it intelligently. And we're going to put rules in place that actually protect innocent people and society.
CORNISH: That voice was Governor Andrew Cuomo. He signed a bill into law this afternoon, making New York the first state to pass gun control measures since the mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. As NPR's Joel Rose reports, the legislation came together fast - a bit too fast for some.
JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: Ever since the shootings in Connecticut and, a few days later, in Webster, New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo has been pushing lawmakers to act quickly.
CUOMO: We all know we don't need another tragedy to point out the problems in the system, right? We understand them. Enough people have lost their lives. Let's act.
ROSE: Last night, Cuomo officially unveiled the New York SAFE Act after weeks of backroom negotiations. The law mandates background checks for all gun purchases, and it requires mental health professionals to report people they consider to be potentially dangerous to law enforcement, who could revoke their gun permits. And Governor Cuomo says the law places a new lower limit on the size of ammunition magazines.
CUOMO: Ban on magazines that can hold over seven rounds. Many of the other jurisdictions passed have been talking about 10 rounds. This, we believe, would be the most aggressive limit in the country at seven.
ROSE: The law also requires tougher penalties for using illegal guns. That was a top priority for Senate Republican Leader Dean Skelos of Long Island, who voted for the law.
STATE SENATOR DEAN SKELOS: I think, on balance, the Second Amendment is protected, but also there are incredibly enhanced criminal penalties to keep people off the street that do not belong on the street and really attacks the issue of illegal guns.
ROSE: New York's law also widens the state ban on the sale of assault weapons to include semiautomatic rifles such as the AR-15 rifle used by shooters in Newtown, Webster and elsewhere. Gun owners will be allowed to keep the assault weapons they already own - perhaps roughly a million statewide - but they'll have to register those guns with the state and they won't be allowed to sell them legally in New York. That provision does not sit well with many Republicans from rural areas in upstate New York, where hunters and gun owners are an important constituency.
MARC BUTLER: We're taking up a bill that, number one, tramples on the constitutional rights of our constituents to legally possess firearms.
ROSE: Assemblyman Marc Butler represents a district near the plant in Ilion, New York, where some of the weapons the law bans are made. Butler and others were furious that the bill was unveiled at a news conference last night, then rammed quickly through the legislature with little opportunity for debate.
BUTLER: Where were the public hearings? Where was the vetting process? Where is the give and take of a healthy democratic process?
ROSE: But gun control advocates seem largely pleased with the final product. Laura Cutilletta is with the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence in California, which tracks state gun laws.
LAURA CUTILLETTA: They're very tough laws. It would make for the most comprehensive regulation in the country if you looked at ammo and firearms together. And we really applaud Governor Cuomo for taking leadership on this.
ROSE: When he introduced the bill last night, Governor Cuomo said he would be proud if New York was the first state to pass new gun control measures in the wake of Newtown. But even some of the governor's allies could be heard to wonder if more public discussion might have led to a better law. Joel Rose, NPR News, New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.