By Jon Campbell, Gannett
ALBANY, N.Y. - New York came one step closer to enacting tougher gun laws on Monday, with the state Senate approving a set of broad changes in a late-night Monday vote and the Assembly expected to act early Tuesday.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo unveiled his proposal to bolster the state's gun laws late Monday after weeks of behind-the-scenes negotiations with legislative leaders, with a full ban on assault weapons slated to take effect as soon as it is passed.
The Senate passed Cuomo's bill in a 43-18 vote around 11 p.m. Monday. The Assembly is set to take up the legislation when it returns to session at 10 a.m. Tuesday.
Cuomo's bill - named the Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act, or NY SAFE - would enact a number of new measures, including a ban of all magazines that hold more than seven rounds and universal background checks for all gun sales, regardless if they are private, person-to-person sales.
The bill, Cuomo said, also includes a "Webster provision" - a life-without-parole prison sentence for anyone who murders a first responder. The provision was included as a response to a Christmas Eve shooting in the Monroe County, N.Y., town in which two firefighters were shot and killed while responding to a blaze.
If passed by the Assembly, New York would become the first state to pass tougher gun laws after the Dec. 14 massacre in Newtown, Conn.
"It is comprehensive. It is sound," Cuomo told reporters late Monday. "It addresses the multifaceted problem that we're dealing with. It protects, I believe, hunters and sportsmen, et cetera, and legitimate gun owners."
The bill also includes several provisions pushed for by Senate Republicans, who have expressed a reluctance to bolstering New York's current assault weapons ban. Among them are a new felony for carrying a firearm on school grounds, as well as provisions allowing pistol-permit holders to request that their personal information be guarded from open-records requests.
The latter provision appears to be in direct response to The (Westchester, N.Y.) Journal News' decision to publish a map of pistol-permit holders in Westchester and Rockland counties, which has received significant criticism from Second Amendment advocates. If a permit holder requests privacy, county officials would be able to decide whether it should be granted.
A permit holder or applicant would be able to request privacy for a number of reasons, such as the person being a police officer or if they feel their "safety may be endangered by disclosure." Licensing officials, in most cases at the county level, would be able to decide whether the exception should be granted.
Handgun permits are currently public under state law.
"We're not looking to demonize gun owners," Cuomo said. "Gun owners have done nothing wrong."
After spending more than three hours in conference behind closed doors Monday afternoon, Senate Republicans emerged and signaled a deal was imminent.
"The conference is reviewing a number of options, and it looks like there will be a vote sometime today," said Sen. Michael Nozzolio, a Republican from Fayette, N.Y., in Seneca County.
Cuomo's bill, which was formally proposed after 8 p.m., also makes changes to laws regarding the mentally ill. If a mental-health professional decides someone is a potential risk to others or themselves, they would be required to alert the authorities, who would have the ability to confiscate any firearms that person may own.
Assault weapons -- defined as any rifle with a "military style" feature, such as a bayonet or a telescoping stock -- that are currently owned would be grandfathered and would have to be registered with the state. Magazines with a capacity of more than 10 rounds and manufactured before 1994, which are currently legal, would have to be turned over to authorities or sold out of state within one year. If a magazine has a capacity between eight and 10, it would have to be retrofitted to only hold seven rounds.
Under Cuomo's plan, the state would have one year to set up an instant background check system for all ammunition purchases. Law enforcement would be alerted to large purchases of ammunition.
Cuomo and lawmakers have been in talks over the state's gun laws since the Dec. 14 massacre in Newtown, Conn. If the vote passes the Assembly, New York would be the first state to pass tighter firearm restrictions since the shooting.
Some Republicans in both the Senate and Assembly warned against moving too quickly.
Sen. Thomas O'Mara, R-Big Flats in Chemung County, cautioned against a vote simply so New York and Cuomo can claim the mantle of being the first in the nation to adopt tougher gun laws.
"It's certainly very frustrating, but the governor has made this his priority issue and I think the No. 1 concern of his is to get it done first, before anybody else does anything," O'Mara said. "When we're dealing with issues of Second Amendment concern or any constitutional concern, we should be taking a greater and more thorough look at it with the opportunity for discussion amongst all interested parties."
Cuomo said he would waive a mandatory three-day aging period for new bills if the Legislature puts the gun measures to a vote. The reason, he said, was in part to give the bill the best chance of passing and part to prevent a potential bump in sales for assault rifles in the period before lawmakers act.
About three dozen union members who work at a Remington Arms manufacturing plant in Herkimer County traveled to the Capitol on Monday, presenting lawmakers with a letter expressing concern that a full assault-weapons ban could put them out of work.
The Remington plant manufactures several types of rifles, including the Bushmaster .223-caliber model used in Newtown and Webster.
"We are asking you to not hinder the growth of our employer, the opportunity of growth in the Mohawk Valley with large and small businesses, and most importantly the jobs that support the survival of our membership and their families," the union, United Mine Workers of America Local 717, wrote.
Assemblywoman Ellen Jaffee, D-Suffern in Rockland County, said a quick vote was prudent, saying she was concerned that a delay could lead to less stringent regulations.
"I'm concerned that the anti-gun-safety lobbyists would have influence in a way where we would lose the opportunity to move forward with gun safety," she said.
In his State of the State address last Wednesday, Cuomo called for the "toughest assault weapons ban in the nation" as well as limiting magazines to a capacity of seven bullets, down from the current 10.
"No one hunts with an assault rifle," Cuomo said. "No one needs 10 bullets to kill a deer. End the madness."
Contributing: Joseph Spector and Jessica Bakeman, Gannett.