The state’s recently passed restrictions on assault weapons and ammunition are considered a triumph by many, including one lawmaker who had a hand in crafting the legislation and spoke about it at a town hall meeting in Cambria Heights on Jan. 30.
State Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-Hollis), who co-sponsored the bill in the Senate with Sen. Jeff Klein (D-Bronx), gave a copy of the gun law to Donna Hood, the mother of Kevin Miller, who was only 13 when he was struck and killed by a stray bullet as he walked home from school in 2009. Miller’s killers used handguns.
“I would not have been in that room, Southeast Queens wouldn’t have been in that room, would not have had a representative at that table ... if I wasn’t part of this coalition government,” Smith said, defending his decision to join the Independent Democratic Conference.
Smith’s contributions to the law had to do with increased penalties, so illegal possession of an unloaded weapon would carry a mandatory sentence of three years in prison, while a loaded weapon carries a minimum of five years, when the law takes effect in March.
“I’ve had conversations with young men on the street and I’ve asked them ‘Why do you have these handguns? Why aren’t you scared to put these handguns in your hands and utilize them,” Smith recalled. “They say, ‘Malcolm it’s like this. If I get caught with a handgun, I get pleaded down. I do six months, maybe I do a month, sometimes I’m out the next day, and it’s a badge of honor when I go back on the street.’”
The legislation limits the maximum size of magazines to seven rounds, down from 10; providesmore stringent background checks for sales of guns; increases penalties for illegal gun possession; establishes a School Safety Task Force to assess the quality of school safety plans statewide; and seeks to eliminate the sale of guns to those with mental illness.
Hood was in Albany when the gun bill was being drafted and she praised Smith for his role in getting it passed and she spoke about how meaningful it was for her to be able to offer her input.
“We were able to give our feedback on why it was so important to pass these stronger gun laws,” Hood said. “We met with so many different people. We watched Malcolm at work, and he really fought hard.”
There were questions from some attendees about the legislation. One believed it infringed on Second Amendment rights, citing weapons use for hunting and among gun clubs. Smith responded by saying assault weapons with huge ammo clips are not necessary for killing wild game such as deer and rabbit.
Another individual stated that his gun was legal before the bill was passed and then became illegal, and he was concerned about that issue. Smith said that lawmakers are looking to amend the legislation to make considerations for peace officers and retired law enforcement. a