Gun Debate Grows in Albany

5:50 PM, Jan 7, 2013   |    comments
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By Jessica Bakeman, Albany Bureau

ALBANY -- The battle over gun-control legislation in New York continued Monday, with Democrats and Republicans in the state Legislature balking at each others' proposals.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, and his party's leaders in the Senate and Assembly have advocated for a strong ban on assault weapons. Republicans have focused on increased penalties for illegal gun sales, possession and use.

Cuomo discussed his plans with the Senate's five-member Independent Democratic Conference on Friday, and Senate Republicans released their proposed legislation over the weekend. A coalition of lawmakers led by Assembly Democrats on Monday highlighted a plan they proposed last month.

Cuomo said at a meeting at the Capitol on Monday that developing legislation on controversial issues is "a process." Conversations around gun control have exploded nationwide since last month's fatal shootings in Newtown, Conn., and Webster, Monroe County.

"This body -- most legislative bodies -- they want to get a sense for the atmosphere and the environment," he said. "They want to get a sense for how heated the opposition is, how heated the support is. And then they'll make a decision."

Cuomo has yet to publicly reveal his gun-control bill, but he has said one is expected as part of his State of the State address Wednesday. The legislative session also starts Wednesday.

After Cuomo's Friday meeting with the IDC, Sen. Jeffrey Klein, the group's leader and a Democrat from the Bronx, said Friday if it were approved, Cuomo's bill would be the "strongest assault-weapons ban in the country."

Cuomo said Monday his definition of an assault weapon is a "rifle with a high-capacity magazine that has the indicia of an assault weapon."

Klein said the bill also included background checks that aimed to keep guns out of the hands of mentally ill people who might be a danger to themselves or others.

Senate Republicans' proposal did not include an assault-weapons ban, even though Klein said the IDC supports a ban "wholeheartedly." Klein and Senate Republicans brokered a deal in November to share control of the 63-seat chamber.

Republicans' proposal, which they released Saturday afternoon, called for tougher laws against the sale and possession of illegal guns and harsher punishments for those who use guns in crimes. The legislation also included a first-degree murder charge for those who kill emergency responders in the line of duty.

Cuomo criticized the plan, saying that it does not go "far enough."

"It misses the mark, pardon the pun, to put out a plan that doesn't ban assault weapons, with what we've seen," Cuomo said Monday.

Mike Murphy, spokesman for the Senate Democrats, blasted Republicans in a statement Monday, calling them "pawns of the (National Rifle Association)."

"The Senate Republicans are alone in their extremist position and stubborn refusal to address the rampage of gun violence," Murphy said. "To refuse to ban assault weapons in the midst of this bloodshed shows how callous and out of touch the Senate Republicans really are."

Republicans hit back Monday, balking at a proposal pushed last month by a group of Democrats from both chambers.

The package contains several measures, including strengthening the state's assault-weapons ban and banning high-capacity ammunition magazines, mandating semi-automatic pistols be equipped with microstamping technology and requiring universal background checks. The plans also include a requirement for gun owners to renew their licenses every five years and a limit of personal handgun purchases to no more than one per month.

"None of the proposals would substantially impede law-abiding New Yorkers from obtaining and keeping suitable weapons for protection, hunting, or other legal uses," a news release from the group, led by Assembly members Michelle Schimel D-Nassau County, and Brian Kavanagh, D-Manhattan, stated Monday.

Kelly Cummings, spokeswoman for Senate Republican Leader Dean Skelos, R-Nassau County, said in a statement that Assembly Democrats are "jeopardizing an agreement on comprehensive gun safety legislation."

"The refusal of the Assembly Democrats to even consider putting in place tougher penalties, including mandatory minimum sentences for individuals who commit crimes with guns, illegally possess or sell guns, or to strengthen Kendra's Law, is unconscionable," Cummings said.

Assembly Democrats responded Monday afternoon, calling Senate Republicans' accusation that they were being uncooperative "an outright lie."

"Assembly Democrats have been working with the Governor for the past three weeks on a comprehensive bill that would ban assault weapons and increase penalties for illegal guns," Michael Whyland, spokesman, said. "This is simply an attempt by Senate Republicans to shift the blame for their refusal to ban deadly assault weapons."

The IDC's Klein said Friday it would seek to help pass Cuomo's legislation this month.

Cuomo said Monday he would put his weight behind gun-control legislation, as he has with other issues in past sessions.

"I believe if you build political support among the people, then the politicians follow," he said. "If you look at the track record we've had, that's the way it has worked."


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