By Joseph Spector, Albany Bureau Chief
ALBANY - In 1911, New York passed the Sullivan law, one of the first gun-control laws in the nation that required a permit to own a handgun.
Now, more than a century later, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg have become national players in the push for tougher gun laws, putting New York at the forefront of the gun-control debate.
While the White House plans to seek to curb gun violence after school shootings in Newtown, Conn., last month, New York is forging ahead with its own proposal. Cuomo, a Democrat and potential 2016 presidential candidate, has vowed to pass the toughest gun-control measures in the country.
State lawmakers are hoping to pass a new set of laws as early as next week, which would make it the first state to do so since the Connecticut shootings.
"Gun violence has been on a rampage, as we know first hand, and we know painfully," Cuomo said Wednesday in the annual State of the State address. "We must stop the madness, my friends, and in one word, it's just enough. It has been enough."
Cuomo opened his address by giving New York state flags to the families of two emergency responders who were ambushed and fatally shot in Webster, Monroe County, on Christmas Eve by a felon who had served 17 years in prison for murdering his grandmother.
Cuomo is pressing lawmakers, including Republicans who control the state Senate, to support his agenda.
"To be blind to this issue and the number of tragedies and the amount of bloodshed, I think would be dereliction of your public service responsibility," he told reporters Thursday.
The efforts in New York have come with increasing resistance from gun-rights advocates.
The National Rifle Association said Wednesday that, "America's most-anti-gun governor hails from the same state as the nation's most-anti-gun mayor."
The group argued that New York already has among the toughest gun laws in the nation, saying it has an assault-rifle ban and a 10-round magazine capacity limit. The NRA urged on its website that New York is trying to move quickly to diminish public debate.
"Anti-gun lawmakers are teaming with the governor to make sure these bills are quickly adopted before the gun-owning public has an opportunity to resist," the NRA wrote.
New York lawmakers are proposing to expand the assault-rifle ban to include all high-capacity magazines. Currently, high-capacity magazines are banned in New York unless they were manufactured before 1994, a loophole that Cuomo wants to close.
Lawmakers also want to reduce the number of bullets in a magazine from 10 to seven - which would be the most stringent in the nation.
Bloomberg and Cuomo, two forceful and high-profile leaders, haven't always agreed on state policy, but they appear to be in sync on the gun-control issue.
"New York state has led the nation with strong, common-sense gun laws, and the governor's new proposals will build on that tradition," Bloomberg, an independent who heads the group Mayors Against Illegal Guns, said in a statement Wednesday. "They will help law enforcement keep guns out of the hands of criminals and other dangerous people and save lives."
Other Democratic governors are pursuing tougher gun laws. On Thursday, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper proposed universal background checks for gun sales. Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy has set up a panel to make proposals by March.
New York, the third largest state with nearly 19.5 million people, ranked 24th in the nation for its murder rate in 2010, federal statistics show, and slightly below the national average. Last month, Bloomberg announced murders in the city were the lowest since records started being kept 50 years ago.
The debate over gun laws in New York has expanded to media coverage. The Journal News, a Gannett Co. Inc. publication in Westchester County, has been under heavy criticism for publishing an interactive map of the names and addresses of pistol-permit holders in the northern New York City suburbs.
Putnam County has refused to release its list of pistol-permit holders and has vowed to fight the newspaper in court, saying the information's release would jeopardize safety. Good-government groups defended the newspaper, saying the information is public.
Some lawmakers want a state law that would be make the pistol-permit information private, but Cuomo has not included the measure in his gun-control package.
"I'll leave it to the local government to make their interpretation of the law. And my guess is in these cases, the court will wind up deciding," Cuomo told reporters Thursday.
Republicans and conservatives in New York are seeking tougher laws on illegal guns, saying the shootings in Newtown and Webster shouldn't be linked to law-abiding gun owners.
"Any further restrictions on legal gun ownership in New York state will jeopardize the safety of all New York's citizens," the state's Conservative Party said in a memo to legislators on Friday. "The best solution to end indefensible terroristic acts is to prosecute to the fullest extent possible all those who use illegal guns."