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Senate Democrats say they’ll press harder for new gun laws


Democrats in the New York state Senate say they will push harder for gun control bills in the wake of the Florida shooting that left 17 dead and are even considering proposing the measures as hostile amendments.

Before they left for the Presidents week break, Senate Democrats pushed for more measures to strengthen gun control in New York. The state already has one of the strongest gun laws in the nation. Known as the SAFE Act, it was passed shortly after the Sandy Hook school shooting in Connecticut at the request of Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

It limits assault-style weapons and requires more detailed background checks for gun buyers. It also enacted stiffer penalties for illegal gun possession and required mental health professionals to report patients to law enforcement authorities if they think the patients might harm themselves or others with a weapon.

But Democratic Senate Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said more can be done to help prevent mass shootings and other types of gun violence. 

“We respect the Second Amendment, but that doesn’t mean we should allow dangerous people to have firearms,” Stewart-Cousins said.

Among the bills backed by the Democrats — banning possession of bump stocks, devices that increase the firing power of semi-automatic weapons. Bump stocks were a factor in the fall 2017 mass shooting in Las Vegas, where a gunman killed 58 people. 

Other measures would extend the current three-day waiting period before buying a gun to 10 days, and close what Senate Deputy Democratic Leader Michael Gianaris said is a “glaring loophole” in the law that allows sales to go through after three days even if the background check is not completed.

The package of bills also allows victims of gun violence to sue the firearms manufacturer for negligence, said Sen. Jamaal Bailey.

“Because somebody’s making these guns,” Bailey said. “Aggrieved individuals should have their day in court.”

Cuomo also has proposed additions to the state’s gun control laws, including extending laws that confiscate the firearms of people who commit domestic violence to include misdemeanor offenses.

After the Florida shooting, the governor pointed out that a database created through the SAFE Act contains the names of more than 75,000 New Yorkers who are mentally ill and deemed a potential danger to themselves or others. He said if any of them want them want to buy a gun, they would be prohibited under the law.

Cuomo spoke on CNN shortly after the Florida incident, and he condemned a move in Congress to strengthen gun rights measures, including allowing concealed carry weapons across state lines, saying it’s the wrong way to go.

“It would be total mayhem,” Cuomo said on Feb. 15.

But the governor said he thinks Congress may change their views if public pressure continues.

Many of the New York state measures backed by Cuomo and the Senate Democrats are also supported in the Democratic-led State Assembly. But the Republicans who lead the Senate have not been receptive so far to new gun control measures.

While a number of GOP senators voted for the SAFE Act in 2013, other Republican senators were opposed, and five years later, still want to repeal the measure, saying there are other ways to keep schoolchildren safe.

A spokesman for the Senate Democrats, Mike Murphy, said they will push more strongly for the bills when they return on Feb. 27 and are considering bringing amendments to the Senate floor in order to force a vote. They say they believe they have enough supporters for the measures to pass.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. WBFO listeners are accustomed to hearing DeWitt’s insightful coverage throughout the day, including expanded reports on Morning Edition.