In his State of the State Address on Jan. 9, Governor Cuomo called on the New York State legislature to respond to recent “madness” in gun violence with tighter gun control legislation.
“In the area of public safety, gun violence has been on a rampage as we know firsthand and we know painfully. We must stop the madness, my friends,” Cuomo said during his address. “It has been enough. We need a gun policy in this state that is reasonable, that is balanced, that is measured,” he said.
In a swift bipartisan agreement, New York legislators enacted the New York Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act on Jan. 15. It is the first major bill signed into law since the Newtown, Conn. shooting and several recent incidents of gun violence, and is one of the most stringent gun control policies in the nation.
The legislation includes a revamped system of background checks for gun purchases and requires mental health professionals to alert the state when they believe a patient is likely to engage in violent behavior.
Dr. Shannon Frattaroli, of the Center for Gun Policy and Research at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, agreed with the bill’s provision for mental health providers to report potentially dangerous patients with severe illnesses. However, the mental health alert would have to be carried out carefully to avoid unintended consequences, she said.
“This approach requires a throughtfulness in its implementation to minimize or eliminate concerns about privacy and to address concerns about worsening the stigma associated with people who suffer from mental illness,” Frattaroli said.
The NY SAFE Act also broadens the definition of assault weapons that are banned in the state, which would make the gun used in the Newtown shooting illegal. New York State will also be the first state to ban carrying magazines with over seven rounds.
However, the bill that was pushed through by lawmakers in a few days is encountering some opposition. For instance, Kurt Mueller, Director of Strategy of Students for Concealed Carry, a student-run organization in favor of legal gun possession on college campuses for self-defense, objects to the new magazine restrictions.
“The legislation is overly restrictive and kind of absurd in its details, for example with the magazine limits,” Mueller said. He emphasized that there are ways to get around certain policies.
“Shooters will just buy more magazines, which can be changed in five seconds,” he said.
Many questions remain unanswered by the new legislation, a problem some attribute to the the hastiness with which it was signed. Assemblyman Steven Katz reported to the New York Times that he felt “bullied,” as Cuomo opted to waive the constitutionally required three day deliberation period. The biggest question is whether law enforcement officers are exempt from the magazine limits, an issue the bill fails to address.
Despite the ambiguities in the bill, gun control advocates hope the NY SAFE Act will serve as a model for national legislation.
For instance, One Million Moms for Gun Control, a group formed in the wake of the Newtown shooting, voiced their support for the bill in a march on Jan. 21. Over 500 people crossed the Brooklyn Bridge to show approval of the NY SAFE Act and to call on Congress to enact a similar bill.
“We think this New York law should be a model for the country. Mayor Bloomberg recently pointed out that about 85 percent of all guns used in New York City crimes come from out of state. That’s why it’s critical that we persuade the U.S. Congress to enact common-sense gun control laws at a federal level,” said Jaime Pessin, the New York City chapter leader of One Million Moms.
Similar proposals to the NY SAFE Act are emerging in Maryland and Virginia, while states such as Mississippi and Texas firmly oppose any further gun restrictions.
A version of this article appeared in the Jan. 28 print edition. Veronica Carchedi is city/state editor. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.