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New York passes major gun control law -- first since Newtown massacre

New York lawmakers on Tuesday approved the toughest gun control law in the nation, expanding the state's existing assault weapons ban and addressing gun ownership by those with mental illnesses in the first major legislative action in response to the Newtown, Conn., school massacre.

The measure passed the state Assembly 104-43 after passing the state Senate 43-18 Monday. Gov. Andrew Cuomo quickly signed the legislation on Tuesday.

"This unfortunately required tragedies and loss of life to actually spur the political process to action," Cuomo said in remarks minutes before signing the bill.

"This will be the toughest gun control package in the nation," Sen. Jeffrey Klein, leader of the Independent Democratic Conference that shares majority control with Republican senators, had told The Associated Press. "All in all, it is a comprehensive, balanced approach that will save lives."

In a statement Tuesday, the National Rifle Association said it was "outraged" and called New York's gun control bill "draconian."

The vote came as lawmakers in other states as well as the federal government wrestle with how to reduce gun violence after a series of mass shootings.

Obama to release gun proposal as early as Wednesday

President Barack Obama is set to unveil his own proposals -- based on recommendations from Vice President Joe Biden's gun task force -- on Wednesday. He is expected to focus on both legislative measures and steps that could be taken through executive action.

These steps could include cracking down on people who lie on background checks and focusing on improving school safety and mental health care. A federal assault weapons ban would require approval from Congress.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg applauded the state's bipartisan cooperation in a statement Tuesday, and suggested that it "sets an example for Washington to follow."

"The responsible and comprehensive gun reform bills the governor signed into law today will help keep guns away from criminals and others who are already prohibited from purchasing them," Bloomberg said.

Cuomo, who had called for an overhaul of gun laws in New York in his State of the State address last week, defended the provisions of the law.

"Seven bullets in a gun, why? Because the high-capacity magazines that give you the capacity to kill a large number of human beings in a very short period of time is nonsensical to a civil society," Cuomo said, according to Reuters.

Called the Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act, New York's law:

  • Bans possession of any high-capacity magazines regardless of when they were made or sold. Only clips able to hold up to seven rounds can be sold in the state. Clips able to hold seven to 10 rounds can be possessed, but cannot be loaded with more than seven rounds. If an owner is found to have eight or more bullets in a magazine, he or she could face a misdemeanor charge.
  • Requires ammunition dealers to do background checks, similar to those for gun buyers. Dealers are required to report all sales, including amounts, to the state. Internet sales of ammunition are allowed, but the ammunition will have to be shipped to a licensed dealer in New York state for pickup.
  • Requires creation of a registry of assault weapons. Those New Yorkers who already own such weapons would be required to register their guns with the state.
  • Requires any therapist who believes a mental health patient made a credible threat of harming others to report the threat to a mental health director, who would then have to report serious threats to the state Department of Criminal Justice Services. A patient's gun could be taken from him or her, as well.
  • Stipulates that stolen guns should be reported within 24 hours.
  • Tightens the state's description of an "assault" weapon. Previous state law defined an assault weapon as having two "military rifle" features, but the new law reduces that specification to just one feature
  • Requires background checks for all gun sales, including by private dealers -- except for sales to members of the seller's immediate family.

One of the most controversial elements of the bill is the requirement on providers of mental health services.

"People who are mentally ill should not have access to guns, that's common sense," Cuomo said, according to Reuters. "That's probably the hallmark of this bill, coming up with a system that allows for mental-health screens."

Critics are arguing that the provision is unprecedented and draconian, but it is neither, said Art Caplan, head of the Division of Medical Ethics at NYU Langone Medical Center and an contributor.

"For decades mental health workers have had an ethical obligation to report those they think pose a clear and present danger to others to the police and to the person who has been threatened," Caplan said. "Their codes of ethics require them to do so. The new law in New York now makes that reporting a legal duty and gives the therapist a clear set of directions as to how to report and to whom."

In a statement, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr. thanked legislators and said the bill will "provide law enforcement with stronger tools to protect our communities from gun violence, including provisions that better enable us to combat gun trafficking and violent gangs, and others that close the state gun show loophole and regulate large-quantity sales of ammunition and firearms."

Critics of the proposal had accused lawmakers of playing politics with citizens' rights and hundreds of gun manufacturer jobs.

"We haven't saved any lives tonight, except one: the political life of a  governor who wants to be president," Republican Sen. Greg Ball, who represents part of  the Hudson Valley, said after the Senate vote on Monday, according to the AP. "We have taken an entire category of firearms that are currently legal that are in the homes of law-abiding, tax paying citizens. ... We are now turning those law-abiding citizens into criminals."

Assemblyman Marc Butler, a Republican, represents the upstate district where gun-maker Remington Arms Co., which employs 1,000 workers, is based. He called the closed-door meetings by Senate Republicans and the Democratic majority of the Assembly "politics at its worst."

Remington builds Bushmaster rifles in Illion, N.Y. Bushmaster semi-automatic rifles were used in the Newtown shooting and in the killing of two firefighters in Webster, N.Y.

The NRA expressed skepticism about the new law in a statement Tuesday: "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."

"This legislation is not about hunters, sportsmen, or legal owners who use their guns appropriately," Cuomo said. "It is about reducing gun violence and making New York a safer place to live."

Legislators in other states also are moving forward with gun control legislation.

In New Jersey, one of 18 new gun bills submitted to the legislature would require gun buyers to submit to a psychological evaluation. A bill requiring gun owners to register annually, and another requiring all guns to be kept in lock boxes when not in use may be introduced in California. In Connecticut, state Sen. Beth Bye wants to limit access to assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, and require that firearms be registered by model and serial number.

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