Tuesday January 15, 2013

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) -- New York lawmakers were poised to vote Monday night to enact tougher anti-violence legislation in what would be the nation's first gun control measure following last month's Connecticut school shooting.

"I think when all is said and done, we are going to pass a comprehensive gun bill today," Sen. Jeffrey Klein told reporters. "I'm very excited about it. I am very confident we are going to vote on a comprehensive bill that will be agreed on by the governor, the Senate and Assembly."

People familiar with closed-door negotiations told The Associated Press a tentative deal was struck over the weekend following the push made by Gov. Andrew Cuomo last week in his State of the State speech. The people spoke on condition of anonymity because the proposal had not been discussed among rank and file legislators.

The package hits on several fronts including a much tighter assault weapon ban and restrictions on ammunition and the sale and storage of guns, according to final provisions obtained by The Associated Press. The package would also create a mandatory police registry of assault weapons under a more restrictive definition.

All private sales would be subject to a background check done through a licensed dealer and the bill would require the reporting of mentally ill people who say they intend to use a gun illegally, according to the provisions confirmed by five legislative officials.

The package is part of Gov.


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Andrew Cuomo's gun control bill and priorities of Democratic and Republican legislators in the Assembly and Senate. The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because rank-and-file lawmakers were still signing off on some provisions.

Under current state law, assault weapons are defined by having two features spelled out in law. The proposal would reduce that to one feature and include the popular pistol grip.

Private sales of assault weapons to someone other than an immediate family would be subject to a background check through a dealer. Also Internet sales of assault weapons would be banned, and failing to safely store a weapon could be subject to a misdemeanor charge.

Ammunition magazines would be restricted to seven bullets, from the current 10, and current owners of higher-capacity magazines would have a year to sell them out of state. An owner caught at home with eight or more bullets in a magazine could face a misdemeanor charge.

In another provision, a therapist who believes a mental health patient made a credible threat to use a gun illegally would be required to report the incident to a mental health director who would have to report serious threats to the state Department of Criminal Justice Services. A patient's gun could be taken from him or her.

The legislation also increases sentences for gun crimes.

Legislators wouldn't comment on the tentative deal or the provisions discussed in closed-door conferences.

"It's a tough vote," said Senate Deputy Majority Leader Thomas Libous of Broome County. "This is a very difficult issue depending on where you live in the state. I have had thousands of emails and calls ... and I have to respect their wishes." He said many of constituents worry the bill will conflict with the Second Amendment's right to bear arms while others anguish over shootings like at Newtown, Conn., and Columbine, Colo.

A vote Monday would come exactly one month after a gunman killed 20 children and six educators inside Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan, said the deal will include ways for schools to use state aid to better guard against shootings.

"I think the message out there is clear after Newtown and to get us down this road as quickly as possible to basically eradicate assault weapons from our streets in New York as quickly as possible is something the people of our state want," Silver said. "It's an important thing to do. It is an emergency."

He said a registry of assault weapons will be created, grandfathering in assault weapons already in private hands. He said crimes using guns will get additional mandatory minimum sentences.

The closed-door meetings prompted about a dozen gun workers to travel more than two hours to Albany to protest the legislation they say could cost 300 to 700 jobs in the economically hard-hit Mohawk Valley.

"I have three small kids myself," said Jamie Rudall, a unionized worker who polishes shotgun receivers. "So I know what it means, the tragedy ... we need to look at ways to prevent that, rather than eliminate the rights of law-abiding citizens."

In the gun debate, one concern for New York is its major gun manufacturer upstate.

Remington Arms Co. makes the Bushmaster semi-automatic rifle that was used in the Connecticut shootings and again on Christmas Eve in Webster, N.Y., when two firefighters were slain responding to a fire. The two-century-old Remington factory in Ilion in central New York employs 1,000 workers in a Republican Senate district.

Assemblyman Marc Butler, a Republican who represents the area, decried the closed-door meetings by Senate Republicans and the Democratic majority of the Assembly as "politics at its worst."

"This is on a fast track, they are going to shove it down our throats," Butler said. "They are about to step all over the Second Amendment in secret meetings."

The bill would be the first test of the new coalition in control of the Senate, which has long been run by Republicans opposed to gun control measures. The chamber is now in the hands of Republicans and five breakaway Democrats led by Klein, an arrangement expected to result in more progressive legislation.

Former Republican Sen. Michael Balboni said that for legislators from the more conservative upstate region of New York, gun control "has the intensity of the gay marriage issue." In 2011, three of four Republicans who crossed the aisle to vote for same-sex marriage ended up losing their jobs because of their votes.

"It was always startling to me the vast cultural divide between New York City metropolitan view on gun control and most of the upstate communities," said Balboni, who represented part of Long Island for 10 years and was a Senate leader. "Emotions run high and there will be tremendous pressure on all upstate legislators, Republicans and Democrats, to keep their base."