New York: New York on Tuesday passed what supporters called the toughest gun ownership law in the country, becoming the first US state to impose new restrictions in the wake of last month’s elementary school massacre in Connecticut.
Lawmakers in the lower house of the state assembly voted 104-43 in favour of the measure, which had been approved by the upper house in a 43-18 vote late Monday.
Democratic governor Andrew Cuomo, who rushed through the legislation, welcomed the assembly’s overwhelming support, saying “we are fighting back.”
“I am proud to be a New Yorker today,” Cuomo said as he signed the law. “Not just because New York has the first bill, but because New York has the best bill.”
The measures, which include a full ban on sales of military-style rifles, were linked directly to the national horror at the 14 December massacre of 20 six-and seven-year-olds and six staff at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.
Those killings sparked a major national debate over the need for curbing America’s liberal gun laws. President Barack Obama said on Tuesday he would unveil his own proposals on Wednesday.
New York’s rapid action on the opening days of its new session grabbed national attention and ramped up momentum for supporters of sweeping new restrictions, particularly on assault rifles—the kind of weapon the Newtown killer used.
New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, a prominent critic of lax gun rules, said the New York vote proved “that it’s possible to act quickly—and in a bipartisan fashion—to enact gun laws that will make our communities safer.”
However, the biggest gun owners’ group, the National Rifle Association, said it was “outraged at the draconian gun control bill.”
“The legislature caved to the political demands of a governor and helped fuel his political aspirations,” the NRA said of Cuomo, who is seen as eyeing a 2016 presidential bid.
The new law, called the NY Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act, or NY SAFE, closes several loopholes in an existing state ban on assault weapon sales.
It reduces the maximum magazine size from 10 rounds to seven and extends the requirement for background checks to all sales, including private deals.
Another notable aspect of the new rules is emphasis on preventing the mentally ill from gaining access to weapons. An existing law allowing judges to order mentally ill people to get treatment was strengthened.
“I think the message out there is so clear after Newtown,” state assembly speaker Sheldon Silver said as the debate got under way on Monday. “It is an emergency,” he said.
Still, opponents questioned whether focusing on assault rifles was wise, given that handguns are used far more frequently in crimes. They also accused Cuomo and his allies of violating the US constitution’s guarantee of the right to bear arms.
The law “tramples on the constitutional rights of our citizens,” Republican assembly member Marc Butler said during the debate on Tuesday.
Advocates of gun control say that rifles designed for firing at a high rate and at multiple targets make it easier for such massacres to take place.
In the run-up to Monday’s vote, Cuomo also ridiculed the argument that assault rifles are needed by ordinary people, such as hunters.
“No one hunts with an assault rifle,” Cuomo said. “No one needs 10 bullets to kill a deer. End the madness.”
A poll from the Pew Research Center released on Tuesday showed 80% of Americans favour preventing mentally ill people from getting firearms, while 67% backed the often controversial idea of maintaining a federal database on gun purchases. As many as 64% wanted armed guards in schools.
However, only 55% backed a federal ban on assault style weapons.
Another poll, by the Washington Post and ABC News, found that a majority of Americans are worried about a mass shooting in their community. The poll found that 65% of people support a nationwide ban on high-capacity ammunition clips.
However, only 51 supported a ban on semi-automatic handguns, which automatically reload after every shot, enabling a high rate of fire. AFP