Bloomberg News

Cuomo Seeks to Tighten New York Assault-Rifle Ban After Newtown

January 07, 2013

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo will propose stricter gun regulations after U.S. shooting massacres in 2012 renewed calls for tighter firearms control.

The 55-year-old Democrat, who will outline his third-year agenda in the State of the State speech tomorrow, has said in a series of interviews and public appearances that he’ll seek to tighten the state’s 2000 ban on assault rifles. The law has “more holes than Swiss cheese,” Cuomo said in a December radio interview.

Shootings that left 40 people dead in Aurora, Colorado; Newtown, Connecticut; and Webster, New York; were all conducted with the same assault-style firearm: the .223-caliber AR-15 semi-automatic rifle. Since 2011, Bushmaster Firearms International has manufactured a version of the weapon in Ilion, New York, about 80 miles (128 kilometers) west of Albany.

“The public is outraged by the extreme lethality of these weapons and will be happy to know the assault-weapons ban is corrected and made stronger,” said Jackie Hilly, head of New Yorkers Against Gun Violence, a Manhattan-based group that supports laws restricting firearms ownership. “It’s responsible of the governor to take action. The public’s attention is really focused on it.”

New York’s ban prohibits semi-automatic rifles only if they have specific combinations of additions, such as a pistol grip and a flash suppressor. Cuomo said yesterday at a news briefing in Albany that he wants to ban all firearms defined as a “rifle with a high-capacity magazine that has the indicia of an assault weapon.”

Republican Partners

The governor will need the cooperation of Republicans, who control the Senate and have been reluctant to allow votes on gun regulation. He is also seeking to push for other measures traditionally blocked by the opposing party, such as raising the minimum wage and public funding of political campaigns.

Cuomo has been negotiating with lawmakers over regulations since the Dec. 14 shooting at a Newtown elementary school that left 20 children dead. He’s seeking to make New York the first state to respond with greater firearms control after the massacre.

To do that, the governor risks angering the state’s gun industry, which employs more than 4,000 New Yorkers who earn a collective $169 million annually, according to a 2012 report from the National Shooting Sports Foundation. The Newtown-based group represents more than 7,000 manufacturers, distributors, firearm retailers and shooting ranges.

Guns, Sandy

“The big role of government is you respond to the need at the time,” Cuomo said at a Jan. 3 cabinet meeting in Albany. “This state has tremendous needs that are being presented at this time. The issue of gun violence, the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, these are just the issues of the day.”

In his address tomorrow, Cuomo has said he’ll propose plans that may include requiring gas stations to have back-up generators and improved flood mitigation after Hurricane Sandy struck Oct. 29, flooding New York City’s subway system and disrupting the fuel supply after tens of thousands were left without power for more than two weeks.

He’s also considering a plan to overhaul the state’s utility system, in part by increasing the fines regulators can levy on power companies and selling the Long Island Power Authority to a private company. LIPA was blamed for a slow response when Sandy knocked out power to 90 percent of its customers.

Another initiative, still being drafted, recommends gated storm barriers between Brooklyn and Staten Island, and building dunes and oyster reefs to better prevent flooding, according to a person familiar with the report who wasn’t authorized to speak publicly about the plan before it’s announced.

Breakaway Democrats

In his first two years, Cuomo has proved he can strike deals with Republicans, working with them to pass a bill legalizing same-sex marriage and to cut more than $12 billion in budget deficits.

This year, though, the power structure has changed. A group of five breakaway Democrats has joined with Republicans to control the chamber. The Independent Democratic Conference shares Cuomo’s priorities and will have a say on what bills come up for a vote, said Bronx Senator Jeff Klein, the group’s leader.

Klein met with Cuomo Jan. 4 to discuss the gun-control measure Cuomo plans to introduce. The governor’s proposal would do “everything possible” to ban assault weapons as well as high-capacity magazines, and help ensure that people with mental-health issues don’t possess guns, Klein told reporters after the meeting. State law doesn’t allow magazines with more than 10 rounds to be sold unless they were made before 1994.

Skelos Bill

The bill would be “the strongest assault-weapons ban in the country,” Klein said.

In a statement e-mailed Jan. 5, Senator Dean Skelos, the Long Island Republican who leads the party in the chamber, proposed a gun bill that would increase penalties for those convicted of a crime who use guns to commit felonies. It would also enhance penalties for those who kill first responders, a recognition of the Christmas Eve shooting in Webster, a Rochester suburb.

William Spengler ambushed firefighters responding to a blaze he started, killing two. The 62-year-old had spent 17 years in prison after beating his grandmother to death with a hammer.

Cuomo said today that Skelos’s measure “misses the mark” because it doesn’t ban assault weapons. If lawmakers won’t agree on the gun-control proposal, Cuomo said he’ll do what he’s done the last two years: use his bully pulpit.

“We take the priorities in the State of the State and then we communicate with the people of the state,” Cuomo said. “If you build support among the people, politicians follow.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Freeman Klopott in Albany, New York, at fklopott@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Stephen Merelman at smerelman@bloomberg.net


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