New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo beat President Obama to the punch. On the day before Obama is expected to announce his new plan to staunch gun violence, Cuomo proudly signed into law legislation that makes New York’s already stringent gun control laws even stricter.
In addition to expanding the ban on assault weapons and lowering the legal ammunition capacity available to New York gun buyers, the new measure takes serious steps to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill by putting a potentially controversial requirement in the laps of therapists.
The new law requires health professionals to report to the state if someone is a danger. The state would add that person’s name to a database that would be checked when gun licenses are sought or renewed every five years.
“People who are mentally ill should not have access to guns, that’s common sense,” Cuomo said at a signing ceremony in Albany. “That’s probably the hallmark of this bill, coming up with a system that allows for mental-health screens.”
Republicans played a pivotal role in the passage of the mental health measures —though their motivation may have been different from Cuomo’s. Many gun rights advocates have stressed that it is mental illness and not guns that is the cause of massacres like the shooting in Newtown, Conn.
Though it is noteworthy that the tough new law sailed through a GOP-led Senate, Republicans in the New York legislature who were opposed to the measure had harsh words for the governor.
“Why are we being bullied into voting on this bill without our proper, responsible due diligence?” said Steven Katz (R-Westchester). “Solely due to the governor’s misguided, egotistic notion that this will advance his presidential aspirations.”
In the Newtown shooting, 20-year-old Adam Lanza carried numerous high-capacity magazines and he changed gun clips several times, allowing him to unleash at least 150 rounds in his 10-minute assault.
The New York law also expands the definition of banned weapons to include semi-automatic pistols and rifles with at least one military-style feature, which would have meant that Lanza’s Bushmaster AR-15 would be banned.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has become an influential voice for gun control, praised the Cuomo package as a “big step.”
“I think this protects the Second Amendment rights of people and at the same time makes all New Yorkers safer,” Bloomberg said.
But as expected, the National Rifle Association denounced the new law, saying Cuomo was so driven by political ambition that he was “determined to steal the thunder from an anti-gun White House.”
“The Legislature caved to the political demands of a governor and helped fuel his personal political aspirations,” the NRA said. “Such an assault in Albany on Second Amendment rights and democracy is the true assault weapon.”