N.Y. Gov. Cuoma To Propose Gun Control Measures
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New York State already has some of the nation's toughest gun laws. And today Governor Andrew Cuomo is expected to propose far-reaching new gun control measures during his State of the State address.
Getting those reforms through the state legislature may be another matter, as NPR's Joel Rose reports.
JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: Ever since the shootings in neighboring Connecticut, Governor Cuomo has been saying he wants New York to pass tougher gun laws - starting by tightening up loopholes in the state's current laws.
(SOUNDBITE OF RADIO SHOW)
GOVERNOR ANDREW CUOMO: Our focus is assault weapons. What is an assault weapon? In this state the assault weapon ban has more holes than Swiss cheese.
FRED DICKER: So-called assault weapons.
CUOMO: OK, so-called assault weapon.
ROSE: Cuomo was interviewed last month on the Albany radio show of Fred Dicker, who's also a columnist for the New York Post. Dicker's show is often a friendly venue for the governor, which made their tense exchange about guns stand out even more.
At a press conference this week, Cuomo acknowledged that reshaping New York State's gun laws won't be easy.
CUOMO: It is a very divisive topic. I can tell you - by the people who come up on the street and what they say, there's a lot of energy on both sides. Some people are vehemently against it. And some people think we've lost our minds by not passing it.
ROSE: Exactly what Cuomo will propose today is not clear. Speculation has focused on a ban on high-volume ammunition clips, and tighter regulation of semi-automatic weapons like the AR-15 Bushmaster rifle used in the Newtown shootings. That gun is currently produced at a factory in upstate New York.
Gun rights advocates here say the governor is taking the wrong approach. Tom King is president of the New York State Rifle and Pistol Association.
TOM KING: Passing gun control legislation is an easy way of saying, hey, here we are, we're protecting you. Look what we've done. We're going to take these bad guns off the street. In fact, they're not. I know they're not. You know, the politicians know they're not. And any thinking person knows that that's not going to work.
ROSE: King supports an alternative plan to combat gun violence that was put forward over the weekend by Republicans in the state Senate. Their plan would focus on mental health, and on creating tougher penalties for buying, selling or using illegal guns.
It also has support from Michael Long, the influential chairman of the state's Conservative Party.
MICHAEL LONG: Certainly people in upstate New York feel very strongly about right to protect their property. And if they're law abiding citizens, I don't see why we go after them. I think we ought to keep our focus on the criminal element and the people that use guns illegally.
ROSE: The Republican plan would place no new restrictions on the sale of guns, including the AR-15 rifle used in Newtown. But Governor Cuomo, a Democrat, says that doesn't go far enough.
CUOMO: It misses the mark, pardon the pun, to put out a plan that doesn't ban assault weapons, with what we've seen.
ROSE: Jackie Hilly, director of New Yorkers Against Gun Violence, agrees. Hilly says the state's gun laws aren't as tough as New Yorkers may think they are.
JACKIE HILLY: The gun that was used in Connecticut is a gun that is legal in New York. And it's made in New York. And it is available without a background check, and you don't even have to have a license for it. I don't care where you live, whether it's Long Island or Utica, people would be shocked by that and want that law to be changed.
ROSE: That's what Governor Andrew Cuomo must be hoping as he prepares to give his State of the State speech today.
CUOMO: I try to build political support. I believe if you build political support among the people, then the politicians follow. I think if you look at the track record we've had, that's the way it's worked.
ROSE: In his first two years in office, Governor Cuomo used that formula to get a lot of what he wanted from the legislature. But he's never put new gun laws near the top of his wish list before.
Joel Rose, NPR News, New York.
MONTAGNE: In related news yesterday, Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal announced he will introduce legislation requiring instant background checks for people buying ammunition. Currently, background checks are only required for the sale of guns. Blumenthal told reporters that ammunition sales are, quote, "the black hole in gun violence prevention." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.