The New York legislature is poised to pass one of the nation's toughest gun control bill barely one month after the school shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary in nearby Newtown, Conn. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo made the issue a priority and won much needed votes in a series of closed-door meetings that angered some lawmakers.
Included in the bill are strict definitions on what constitutes an assault rifle, restrictions on the size of magazines, or clips that hold bullets, and tougher sentences for shooting at first responders such as police and firefighters.
On Monday night the Senate passed the bill by a vote of 43-18 with no discussion other than a handful of senators explaining why they cast their vote for or against. "Make no mistake, we are saving lives by passing this bill tonight. For that, everyone in this chamber has my thanks, whether it's in allowing it to come to a vote or casting a vote in favor of it," said Sen. Mike Gianaris (D-Queens).
Republicans who voted against the measure expressed concern that the bill focused more on guns rather than addressing issues such as mental illness.
"We haven't saved any lives tonight, except for one: the political life of a governor who wants to be president," said Sen. Greg Ball, a Republican from Putnam County. "I voted no, and I only wish I could have done it twice."
Other provisions of the new law include no longer allowing residents to purchase assault weapons over the internet and having purchasers undergoing a background check even if the weapon was bought from another individual.
In addition, any therapist who believes a patient has made a credible threat to use a gun illegally will be required to report the name of the patient to a mental health director, who in turn must report the information to the state.
But what has angered lawmakers and gun rights proponents the most is how the bill was passed.
Apparently Cuomo negotiated the contents of the bill behind closed doors with a handful of key legislative leaders with no opportunity for the contents to be vetted by the public or even the senators who first voted on the bill.
One Republican senator leader who was involved in the backroom discussions defended the bill by pointing out what scares most gun rights activist the most is confiscation of weapons. "It is well-balanced, it protects the Second Amendment," said Senate Republican leader Dean Skelos of Long Island. "And there is no confiscation of weapons, which was at one time being considered.
"This is going to go after those who are bringing illegal guns into the state, who are slaughtering people in New York City," Skelos said. "This is going to put people in jail and keep people in jail who shouldn't be out on the street in the first place."
The National Rifle Association had been lobbying the issue in Albany and suggested that Gov. Cuomo's methods of high pressure tactics were "deceptive." "Cuomo utilized a rarely used executive trick, a 'message of necessity' to circumvent the normal legislative procedures that are strictly followed on hundreds of bills each legislative session," read a member alert on the NRA website.
"This scheme allowed this bill to be considered for a vote on the floor of each legislative chamber without the normal committee hearings and public input. Such backroom dealing on constitutional rights is outrageous and disgraceful. And such an assault in Albany on Second Amendment rights and democracy is the true assault weapon."
The state Assembly is expected to pass the bill Tuesday afternoon.