Lawmakers in New York pass bills to enforce stringent gun control … A special report by Ashok Nilakantan
Bowing to public sentiment for greater safety, New York state legislators overwhelmingly passed several bills on Thursday to tighten the gun laws, including a bill raising minimum age to buy a semi-automatic assault rifle to 21 years, even as the public outcry over Buffalo/Texas shootings reach a crescendo as a public hearing on both gains traction for tighter gun laws.
The lawmakers also passed a bill that would ban civilians from purchasing bullet-resistant vests, unless the individuals work in law enforcement or other specific professions.
Another bill passed by the lawmakers would broaden the “red flag” law, expanding the list of people who can file for extreme risk protection orders, which allow courts to temporarily seize firearms from anyone believed to be a danger to themselves or others, said CBS TV network reporting on the passage of the legislation.
Even as the United States is divided on enforcing gun laws, it was easy to pass these measures in the New York legislature as it’s a Democrat-controlled state Senate and Assembly.
The new measures announced by Governor Kathy Hochul, a Democrat, has signalled that she will sign the bills on Friday, said CNN in a dispatch.
The bills’ passage follows three weeks after 10 people were killed in an allegedly racially motivated shooting at a supermarket in Buffalo, the gut-wrenching merciless killings of 19 children and two teachers at the Robb public school at Uvalde in Texas even as the nation grappled with a string of mass shootings raising public opinion for strict gun laws.
New York State Senate majority leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said in a tweet on Thursday that by passing the 10-bill package, “we are sending a message that this path of gun violence is unacceptable and we need real change”.
“We cannot be satisfied by New York’s already tough gun laws,” Hochul said in a statement, adding, “Shooting after shooting makes it clear that they (gun laws) must be even stronger to keep New Yorkers safe. This comprehensive package will close the loopholes, give law enforcement the tools they need to prevent easy access to guns, and stop the sale of dangerous weapons to 18-year olds.”
Hochul also urged the Congress to pass “meaningful gun violence prevention measures”.
“Even as we take action to protect New Yorkers, we recognise that this is a nationwide problem. I once again urge the Congress to seize this moment and pass meaningful gun violence prevention measures. We have no time to waste,” she said.
Discussions on a federal response are ongoing among Congressional members, with the Democrat-controlled House looking to pass a wide-ranging bill that stands little chance of passing the evenly controlled Senate, even as US senators are talking about strengthening state red flag laws.
Support for the new gun laws was strong among all the voters regardless of political party or where they live in New York, Siena’s pollsters said.
Democrats (83 per cent), Republicans (67 per cent) , independent voters (73 per cent), Upstate New Yorkers (74 per cent), New York City residents (79 per cent) and gun owners (73 per cent) agreed that the laws will be good for the state.
Voters said by a 79-15 per cent margin that the US Supreme Court should uphold New York’s law requiring a licence to carry a concealed handgun. The court is expected to issue an opinion this month on a case challenging the law, which dates to 1911.
CBS2’s Natalie Duddridge reported that it focuses on the illegal flow of firearms into the five boroughs — Manhattan, Bornx, Queens, Brooklyn and Staten Island.
“We don’t react until we see mass shootings. We don’t react until we see a little kid being murdered. But what we want to say is it’s happening every day in our community,” community advocate Stephanie McGraw said.
A rash of mass shootings from Buffalo to Texas have put pressure on the politicians. However, community members and leaders say day-to-day gun crimes on New York City streets are just as alarming.
“It tracks the type of guns coming into our city — semi-automatic or a pistol. It tracks where it’s coming in from,” Abreu, a councillor, said.
The proposed legislation would also require the city to coordinate with the NYPD and submit an annual report on firearms that includes where the gun was last sold, who the dealer is, and whether it’s a ghost gun or 3D-printed gun.
“Let’s say it’s coming from the George Washington Bridge. That means we have to have a very serious conversation with the governor of New Jersey. How are we going to address this hotspot right here? How can states work together to address this crisis,” Abreu asked.
Abreu is also preparing for the worst as the Supreme Court is poised to strike down a New York law that prohibits the carrying of guns outside home. The court’s opinion is expected in the coming weeks.
“It absolutely scares me to death,” said Sheffali Welch of the group, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense.
“For the first time in close to 30 years, the Congress seems ready to reject the vice-like grip the National Rifles Association, the biggest gun lobbyists in the US, has had on the Congress,” Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer said.
The proposal includes enhanced background checks for gun buyers under 21, incentives for states to implement red flag laws, and funding for mental health services. The negotiators are still working to finalise the text.
“It just keeps happening. Shots ring out, flags come down, and nothing changes… except here in New York,” Hochul said.
As for the latest state gun laws, the bulk of them will go into effect in 30 days, while the new age for purchasing rifles will come into effect in 90 days.
On the same day, the alleged Buffalo shooter pleaded not guilty to gunning down 10 people inside a supermarket last month even as the New York Legislature responded by passing sweeping new gun legislations.
“We have done a lot. On a national level, they are talking about the things we’ve already done,” state Senate majority leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said.
Many Republicans opposed the new gun restrictions, arguing they’d inconvenience law-abiding gun owners.
“If we want to protect our children in schools, we should fund and mandate an armed SRO in every single school building in New York State,” Senator George Borello said.