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Senate Democrats try to force floor vote on gun control

Karen DeWitt

Democrats in the State Senate tried to force a vote on gun control legislation in the State Senate, to put Republicans on the spot over some GOP Senators’ resistance to the bills.

Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins says the measures include banning possession of bump stocks, the ammunition booster used in the Las Vegas shootings. They also permit a judge to limit a person’s access to guns if they are deemed likely to harm themselves or others, known as the Extreme Risk Protection Order.

“The bills my conference will be advancing today on the floor are not radical,” Stewart-Cousins said. They are not extreme, they are common sense ways to reduce gun violence”.

The other provisions include allowing New York State scientists to conduct research on the effects of guns and gun violence. That research is banned on the federal level. And they would expand the three day waiting period for buying a gun to ten days.

On the Senate floor, Democratic Senator Brad Hoylman, who sponsors the bump stock ban, says the state can’t wait for federal action. He says too many in Congress are beholden to the National Rifle Association.

“We should spit in the face of the NRA today,” Hoylman urged his colleagues.

No Republican Senators spoke on the floor, and a vote, by a show of hands, was called.

29 Democrats and members of the Independent Democratic Conference stood up and raised their hands. 30 GOP Senators sat silently, and the amendment was rejected.

Two Senators were absent, including Brooklyn Democrat Simcha Felder, who caucuses with the Republicans, and Senator Josepha Griffo, a GOP member from Utica.  

Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan did not speak publicly but he did issue a statement, saying the GOP is “hard at work on a comprehensive school safety plan”, that will include strengthening school security.  He says Republicans are talking in party meetings and will have bills as early as March 5th.

Senate Deputy Majority Leader John DeFrancisco confirmed the discussions.

“There’s an appetite (for legislation),” DeFrancisco said. “We’re going over various bills that are out there to try to provide safety in the schools.”

But he says when it comes to limiting access to guns, there needs to be a balance to ensure that everyone has a right to “due process”.  But he says he’ll look “very seriously” at proposals to limit mentally ill people’s access to guns.  

Deputy Senate Democratic Leader Michael Gianaris, speaking on the Senate floor, says he supports adding more security at schools but says it’s “mind boggling” that we are talking about making locations safer, but not making people safer.

“Are we just going to have armed guards everywhere in the state at every location trying to predict where the next mass shooting is going to be?” Gianaris asked. “How about we take the shooting out of the mass shooting. And take guns away from people who shouldn’t have them.”

New York already has some of the most restrictive gun laws in the nation, known as the SAFE Act, and passed after the Newtown Connecticut school shootings five years ago. It limits the purchase of assault weapons and related ammunition, among other measures. Several Republican Senators approved the measure, but other GOP senators have said they’d like to see it repealed.    

Governor Cuomo has been on national media touting the successes of the SAFE Act, which he championed. He has also agreed to pool data on gun purchases with other neighboring states to help in background checks.  In a conference call, Cuomo did not wholeheartedly endorse the bills by the Senate Democrats.

“If we can make additional protections for our state law, yes,” Cuomo said. “But is that the ultimate answer? No, because we have borders, and that’s why you need federal action.”

Senator Stewart- Cousins says she’s certain the governor is “equally interested in protecting the lives of New Yorkers”, but she says the measures introduced on the Senate floor Wednesday are really about the legislature taking action, in its first days back after the Parkland Florida school shooting.  

“To continue to do nothing day after day, week after week, year after year, in the face of what we really all know are terrible tragedies,” Stewart- Cousins said. “It’s really unacceptable.”

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.