Governor Andrew Cuomo, seeking to make New York’s gun laws the toughest in the nation, is pushing to tighten the state’s ban on assault weapons and eliminate loopholes that allow the sale of large-capacity magazines.
The 55-year-old Democrat announced his plans today in his third State of the State address in Albany, the capital. The proposal would allow New York to suspend or revoke licenses and confiscate weapons, close loopholes in the 2000 law banning assault rifles, flag large bullet purchases and require background checks for gun sales between private parties.
“This is not taking away people’s guns,” Cuomo said, noting that he owns a Remington shotgun. “It is about ending the unnecessary risk of high-capacity assault rifles.”
Cuomo has been calling for the changes since a 20-year-old gunman killed 20 children and six adults at a Newtown, Connecticut, elementary school Dec. 14. Adam Lanza used a Bushmaster assault-style semi-automatic rifle in the massacre, similar to those made in Ilion, New York. Two weeks later, two firefighters were killed in Webster, New York, by a 62-year-old man also wielding a Bushmaster.
Cuomo’s gun proposal, along with his plans to raise the minimum wage to $8.75 from $7.25 and publicly finance campaigns, face opposition in the Republican-controlled Senate. The governor’s plans put him at odds with the Republican platform after two years of working with the party helped Cuomo cut $12 billion in deficits and pass a law legalizing same-sex marriage.
The governor said he plans to propose legislation that would make possessing 15 grams or less of marijuana in public view a violation punishable by a fine. Current law makes such possession of as much as 25 grams a misdemeanor punishable by as much as one year in jail, while those caught with the same amount at home face only a fine. Police time expended on arrests for this wastes money, and current law unfairly affects blacks, Hispanics and the young, Cuomo said.
The passage of a 10-point Women’s Equality Act would reduce pay disparity, protect against sexual harassment regardless of the size of workplace and guarantee a woman’s right to an abortion. And one year after pushing through a teacher-evaluation system, Cuomo said he wants to create an exam for teachers similar to the one lawyers must take to practice. He also wants to extend the time students spend in school annually by 25 percent -- by either extending the day, reducing vacation or a mix of both.
New York faces significant challenges, Cuomo said. The third-most-populous state had an unemployment rate of 8.3 percent in November, higher than the U.S. rate of 7.8 percent. It faces a deficit of about $1 billion in the fiscal year that starts April 1, which may grow as Cuomo gets a better understanding of the damage Hurricane Sandy did to the state’s economy when it struck Oct. 29. The storm flooded New York City’s subway system and knocked out power to more than 2 million residents.
Cuomo also backed a proposal by an investigative commission he created after Sandy to sell the Long Island Power Authority to a private company so it can be overseen by state regulators. LIPA was blamed for a slow response when Sandy knocked out power to 90 percent of its customers.
Cuomo recommended using tax and other incentives to draw companies into the state’s growing nanotechnology industry. Yesterday, he said Globalfoundries Inc. will construct a $2 billion research facility near a plant it already operates in Malta, New York, about 30 miles (48 kilometers) north of Albany. He also said today he wants to overhaul the state’s infrastructure so it’s better prepared for flooding and power outages.
He also proposed creating three casinos in upstate New York, with 90 percent of the tax revenue generated going to education and 10 percent for property-tax relief. Last year, lawmakers gave the first of two approvals needed for a constitutional amendment allowing casinos in the state. The measure would then go before voters in a referendum.
Yet it was gun control that took center stage. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Manhattan Democrat, told reporters before Cuomo’s speech that passing gun control quickly is a priority.
“New York leads the nation in everything; it’s time for us to lead the nation in this,” Silver said.
Cuomo risks angering the state’s gun industry, which employs more than 4,000 New Yorkers who earn a collective $169 million annually, according to a 2012 report from the National Shooting Sports Foundation. The Newtown-based group represents more than 7,000 manufacturers, distributors, firearm retailers and shooting ranges.
The assault-rifle ban would rewrite one put in place in 2000 that Cuomo said in a December radio interview has “more holes than Swiss cheese.” The existing ban prohibits semi-automatic rifles only if they have specific combinations of additions, such as a pistol grip and a flash suppressor. State law allows sales of magazines with more than 10 rounds if they were made before 1994.
Though Republicans control the Senate as they did in Cuomo’s first two years, the power structure is complicated this year by a group of five breakaway Democrats who have formed their own conference and have brokered a power-sharing agreement with the chamber’s majority party. Dean Skelos, a Long Island Republican, and Jeff Klein, a Bronx Democrat leading the Independent Democratic Conference, will alternate every two weeks as the senate president and won’t allow bills to the floor unless they can agree on them.
Klein met with Cuomo Jan. 4 to discuss the governor’s gun regulation proposal and told reporters after the meeting that it has his support. Skelos and Cuomo have traded barbs over the deal, with Skelos introducing his own measure Jan. 5 that would increase penalties for those who possess firearms illegally.
Skelos said his goal is to have an agreement by the end of the week, and Silver said he’s asked Assembly members to stay in Albany so they’ll be available to vote on a gun measure.
“We are having very productive discussions,” Skelos said.