New York Passes First Major Gun Control Package Since Sandy Hook Shooting

by | January 31, 2019 AT 6:15 AM

By Abraham Kenmore

Once again running ahead of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, the New York State Senate and Assembly passed a new package of six gun control bills on Tuesday, ranging from tweaks to current laws to the controversial Red Flag law.

At a news conference on Tuesday morning, Gov. Cuomo said the changes are part of the same push as the SAFE Act, New York's strict gun control law passed in 2013 after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.

"Obviously we were right, sometimes history irrefutably bears out your actions," Gov. Cuomo said. "It's done nothing but good."

Gov. Cuomo reiterated his support for the Red Flag law, which allows for extreme risk orders of protection from a judge to temporarily remove firearms from someone deemed a threat to themselves or others. He also supported a move to further ban bump stocks, an accessory that increases the fire rate of semiautomatic weapons, and to extend waiting periods on background checks.

"This is the next step in the ongoing crusade, and it will be ongoing," he said.

The Red Flag law, which was the last to be considered, brought a great deal of debate in the Senate, which had previously rejected the proposal while under Republican control. Many Democratic senators rose to support the proposal, but some Republicans vehemently opposed the measure.

"If you go home to your constituents after this package of bills and tell them that they are safer, you are lying, in my opinion," said Sen. Andrew J. Lanza, R-Staten Island.

The sponsor of the Red Flag law, Sen. Brian P. Kavanagh, D-Manhattan, said the bill filled a current gap in the law and pointed to Florida after the Parkland shooting, where the Republican governor signed an extreme risk protection law.

Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins spoke in favor of the law, tying it, like Gov. Cuomo, to the SAFE Act of six years prior.

"Here we are, it's been six years to the month since we've done any, any gun laws in this state, and there have been thousands and thousands of our fellow citizens who have been dying," she said. "And what we have offered in this state have been thoughts and prayers."

The bill passed 42-21 in the Senate, with north country Sens. Joseph A. Griffo, Patricia A. Ritchie and Sen. Elizabeth O'Connor "Betty" Little all voting no.

The other bills in the Senate extended the background check provision for purchasing a firearm to up to 30 days -- at the moment, if background checks are not returned in three days the person is automatically allowed to purchase the firearm.

"This is frankly the most common sense of common sense proposals; I'm very surprised to see so many hands go up across the aisle in the negative," said the sponsor, Democratic Sen. Michael Gianaris.

Other provisions further banned bump stocks, authorized a statewide gun buy-back program, and extended required mental health checks to include databases outside the state, if the person is a resident of New York but lives outside the state. All of them passed the Senate, the last almost unanimously -- 62-1.

The other provision that inspired the most debate was a ban on non-law enforcement officials possessing firearms in schools, mainly designed to stop school districts from authorizing teachers to carry weapons.

The State Assembly passed all six bills on Tuesday as well, with Speaker Carl Heastie holding a news conference of his own on Tuesday morning.

"The majority of you have mentioned that you respect the Second Amendment, I personally don't agree with it but I respect it," Mr. Heastie said. "It is the law of the land and we need to make sure the people who do have guns have them safely, in a responsible way."

Mr. Heastie pointed to the 772 people in New York who died from gun violence in 2017.

"Today we say no more," he said. "Today we will pass a comprehensive set of legislation to prevent gun violence in New York."

Republican legislators, predictably, opposed the majority of the laws proposed.

"Many of these measures represent the lack of understanding downstate lawmakers have of our traditions, pastimes and way of life in Upstate and northern New York" Sen. Ritchie wrote on Facebook. "Like the SAFE Act -- which I opposed six years ago -- many of the measures approved today do little to protect public safety and instead, further deteriorate the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding New Yorkers."

Assemblyman Mark C. Walczyk, R-Watertown, circulated a petition earlier in the week to garner support for protecting gun rights. Assemblyman Ken Blankenbush, R-Black River, sent out a statement after the votes.

"Today, the speaker of the Assembly said he doesn't agree with the Second Amendment," he wrote. "Republicans don't believe you can pick and choose which parts of the constitution you like."

Senate Republicans put forward an amendment on Tuesday to increase the number of armed school resource officers, school security resources and mental health professionals in school; it was quickly shot down.

"I don't know of a single elected official who isn't in favor of doing everything possible to protect the lives of all of New York's schoolchildren," wrote Senate Minority Leader John J. Flanagan in a statement. "That's why it's difficult to imagine that our Conference's common-sense Safe Schools amendment was rejected along partisan lines. Many of the bills being rushed through the Legislature today do nothing to address the serious, underlying causes of school violence or keep our students safe."

(c)2019 Watertown Daily Times (Watertown, N.Y.)