New York lawmakers this week overwhelmingly passed the NY SAFE Act, a set of bills that ban certain assault weapons, require stricter licensing and background checks, limit bullet purchases and restrict the mentally ill from obtaining guns.
The stringent laws are the nation’s first set of gun control bills approved since the Newtown, Conn., shooting, where 20 children and seven adults were murdered in the nation’s second largest school shooting.
“No parent should have to fear for their child’s life when they send their children to school,” Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas (D-Astoria) said.
The gun control package passed in the Republican-controlled state Senate close to midnight on Monday 43-18 and 104-43 in the Assembly on Tuesday afternoon.
“The senators that voted for the NY SAFE Act of 2013 made a bold statement, coming together in a bipartisan, collaborative manner to meet the challenges that face our state and our nation, as we have seen far too many senseless acts of gun violence,” Gov. Cuomo said.
“This historic package of bills is consistent with legislation proposed by the Senate Democratic Conference for years but consistently blocked by the Senate Republicans. Unfortunately, it took the tragedies in Newtown, Aurora, and Virginia Tech to enact sensible legislation,” state Sen. Toby Stavisky (D-Whitestone) said.
Spokesmen from the National Rifle Association lambasted the passage of the act, saying the laws take away gun owners’ rights and will not affect crime.
“These gun control schemes have failed in the past and will have no impact on public safety and crime,” the NRA said in an emailed statement. “While lawmakers could have taken a step toward strengthening mental health reporting and focusing on criminals, they opted for trampling the rights of law-abiding gun owners in New York, and they did it under a veil of secrecy in the dark of night.”
The NY SAFE Act precedes national gun control proposals that President Obama released on Wednesday that urge federal background checks and would ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.
Under the new state laws, gun owners would be restricted to buying magazines that hold seven bullets instead of 10. The laws also mandate a statewide gun registry and create a uniform statewide licensing process rather than letting each county and city regulate in its own way.
The package includes an amendment to Kendra’s Law, which allows closer monitoring of the mentally ill. The amendment keeps the law into effect until 2017, rather than having it periodically sunset as it has since 1999.
The law increases court-supervised treatment from six months to one year; requires authorities to pick up supervision of such cases when a patient moves to a new county within the state; requires evaluation from institutions and prisons after those with mental illness are released; and creates educational pamphlets explaining the process for family members looking to get help for relatives with mental illness.
“Making it harder for criminals to get guns, and keeping firearms out of the hands of the mentally ill are essential steps in the fight against gun violence,” state Sen. Jose Peralta (D-East Elmhurst) said.
“It’s a step in the right direction with a lot of little parts,” state Sen. Joe Addabbo Jr. (D-Howard Beach) said.
He said some senators asked to vote on the bills separately, but the governor refused.
Addabbo supported the package of bills, but has some concerns. Under the amendment to Kendra’s Law one medical professional, not a panel or a group at a hearing, can deem someone unfit to own a gun.
“This could open up a can of worms legally,” Addabbo said.
The package also names a school safety team, but Addabbo said the wording was too vague. The bill did not say when the findings of the team would be released and who would be appointed to the team.
Last, a minor point of contention for the senator was the change from misdemeanor to felony if an individual is found with an unloaded gun.
“That’s a pretty big jump,” he said.
Two Queens state senators whose gun control proposals were included in the package are Peralta and state Sen. Mike Gianaris (D-Astoria). Their contributions focus mainly on licensing and background checks.
“An early advocate for more sensible gun laws, I am proud one of my proposals is included in the NY SAFE Act, whose passage sets the bar for the rest of the country to save the lives of innocent people,” Gianaris said.
One proposal Peralta said was left out is microstamping of shell casings.
“We also need to make it easier for law enforcement to put gun criminals in jail by making use of available technology. That’s why we need to enact microstamping legislation, which has the support of police and prosecutors throughout the state,” Peralta said. “Let’s not waste any more time on the nonsense that a microscopic code on a shell casing constitutes an assault on the Second Amendment rights of sportsmen and law-abiding gun owners.”