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New York Moves to Enact Tougher Controls on Guns
New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo. (Photo: Azi Paybarah / Flickr)

New York Moves to Enact Tougher Controls on Guns

New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo. (Photo: Azi Paybarah / Flickr)

New York State is nearing agreement on a proposal to put what would be some of the nation’s strictest gun-control laws into effect, including what Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo vowed on Wednesday would be an ironclad ban on assault weapons and large-capacity magazines, and new measures to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and mentally ill people.

Lawmakers in Albany, seeking to send a message to the nation that the recent mass shootings demand swift action, say they hope to vote on the package of legislation as soon as next week.

The Assembly speaker, Sheldon Silver, a Manhattan Democrat, told reporters on Wednesday that Mr. Cuomo and legislative leaders were “95 percent” of the way toward an agreement. Senate Republicans, considered the only possible obstacle to the governor’s proposal, indicated they did not intend to block a deal.

“When you hear about these issues all across the nation, whether it’s in the movie theater in Aurora, Colo., or Columbine, something needs to happen — something transformative,” said Senator Timothy M. Kennedy, a Democrat from Buffalo.

The dash to enact new gun controls made New York the first flash point in the battles over firearm restrictions that are expected to consume several state capitals this year.

But the debate also raged elsewhere on Wednesday, from Denver, where supporters of gun rights rallied to oppose weapon restrictions in the new legislative session, to Connecticut, whose governor, Dannel P. Malloy, in an emotional speech to lawmakers — he lost his composure talking about the mass killings at a Newtown elementary school last month — said, “More guns are not the answer.”

At the White House, Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. met with gun-control advocates and said the Obama administration planned both to pass legislation and to use executive orders to try to reduce gun violence. “The president and I are determined to take action,” Mr. Biden said. “This is not an exercise in photo opportunities.”

Mr. Cuomo’s aides said the proposed legislation in New York would expand the definition of what is considered an assault weapon to match California’s law, currently the most restrictive in the nation. But the overall package would go further, they said, by limiting detachable ammunition magazines to 7 rounds from the current 10, and requiring background checks for purchases of ammunition, not just weapons.

Limiting magazines to seven rounds would give New York the toughest restrictions in the nation. Only around half a dozen states currently limit the size of magazines, and most of them allow magazines that contain up to 10 rounds, according to a survey by the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, which advocates gun control. The New York law would also close a loophole that has thwarted enforcement of limits on the size of magazines.

Even as Mr. Cuomo detailed his plans, gun-rights groups mobilized to oppose the new restrictions.

“We fully expect that New York state’s gun owners will be completely engaged in this debate and N.R.A. will be there to lead them,” said Chris W. Cox, the chief lobbyist for the National Rifle Association, which has donated more money to state politicians in New York than anywhere else, much of it to Senate Republicans.

And immediately afterward, Budd Schroeder, the chairman of the Shooters Committee on Political Education, a New York gun-rights group, said he planned to meet with every state senator he knew to ask them to stand up to the governor.

“The legislators are going to be getting a lot of phone calls in their district offices,” Mr. Schroeder said. “How is taking away my rights to own any type of firearm I choose going to change the attitude of a criminal?”

Yet Mr. Schroeder’s group, on its Web site, acknowledged the challenging terrain. “We can say with certainty,” it warned, “that anything short of overwhelming our legislators with calls, e-mails and letters, we have virtually no chance.”

Mr. Cuomo’s initiative drew praise from Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, who has made gun control his signature cause. “I was particularly struck by his passionate leadership on gun violence,” Mr. Bloomberg said in a statement. “New York State has led the nation with strong, common-sense gun laws, and the governor’s new proposals will build on that tradition.”

Mr. Cuomo is a possible 2016 presidential contender who is seeking to elevate his stature among Democrats base nationally, after a much-praised victory on same-sex marriage in his first year in office. His push for enhanced gun control even drew praise from Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York, in a letter that otherwise criticized Mr. Cuomo’s support for abortion rights.

Mr. Cuomo had already stirred up anxiety among gun rights groups by saying in a radio interview in December that “confiscation could be an option” for existing assault weapons.

But on Wednesday, Mr. Cuomo backed away from that statement. “This is not about taking away people’s guns,” he said in his State of the State address. “It is about ending the unnecessary risk of high-capacity assault rifles. That’s what this is about.”

The expectation from Senator Dean G. Skelos, the Republican leader, and his aides that the gun-control legislation would come to the Senate floor for a vote is significant; Senate Republicans have consistently rebuffed efforts by Democrats to pass more restrictive gun laws.

But Republicans now have partial control of the chamber because of a coalition they recently established to share power with a group of dissident Democrats who favor more gun control. And Democrats believe that Republican leaders would rather accept a deal than jeopardize their warm relationship with Mr. Cuomo or risk a public relations backlash.

Many Senate Republicans sought re-election in part by touting their bond with the governor, who remains popular with Republican voters as well as with Democrats; Mr. Cuomo, recognizing the extent of his political power, has vowed to travel the state blaming Senate Republicans if they do not back his efforts for gun control.

The gun-control debate had already flared up in other ways in New York State since the shootings last month in Newtown and in Webster, N.Y., where two firefighters were killed. A newspaper’s publication of a map showing the names and addresses of gun owners in suburban Westchester and Rockland Counties set off a wave of threats against and harassment of the paper’s employees.

In his State of the State address Wednesday, the governor told lawmakers it was their duty to “stop the madness” of violence.

“Forget the extremists — it’s simple,” Mr. Cuomo said to a crescendo of applause. “No one hunts with an assault rifle. No one needs 10 bullets to kill a deer.”

Michael Cooper and Michael D. Shear contributed reporting.

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