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January 8, 2013

Divide emerges in Albany over guns

By Joe Mahoney
The Daily Star

---- — Proposals by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and state Assembly Democrats to ban assault weapons appear to be facing an uphill climb, with state Senate Republicans signaling they are more interested in sealing cracks in the mental health system and toughening punishment for using guns illegally.

“Just going with a simple ban would not solve the problem,” Sen. Jim Seward, R-Milford, told The Daily Star on Monday. “The problem is much deeper than that. When you go down the road of a ban, it all depends on what the definitions are and what firearms are covered.”

Citing the Christmas Eve killings of two volunteer firefighters from Monroe County by a paroled killer who did prison time for murdering his grandmother with a hammer, Seward said that individual would never have killed again if he had been kept in prison for the slaying.

Seward said he would support “coming down tougher on the illegal use of any firearm.”

In Albany on Monday, Cuomo took a slap at the Republican package billed as the GOP’s response to the Monroe County killings and the recent massacre of schoolchildren in Newtown, Conn.

“It misses the mark, pardon the pun, to put out a plan that doesn’t ban assault weapons, with what we’ve seen,” the governor told reporters.

Seward said he will be “all ears” Wednesday when Cuomo is expected to detail his gun-crackdown plan in the annual State of the State speech.

“It all depends on what the definitions are — what firearms are covered,” he said. “That’s what we need a lot more detail on.”

Democrats in the Assembly and Senate traded jabs with Republicans in Albany as the two sides prepared for what is expected to be strident debate following the Newtown and Webster violence that gun-control advocates say had a common denominator: a Bushmaster .223 semi-automatic rifle manufacturer in nearby Herkimer County.

A spokesman for Senate Democrats, Mike Murphy, tagged GOP senators as National Rifle Association “pawns” who are “alone in their extremist position an stubborn refusal to address the rampage of gun violence.”

In response, a spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, Kelly Cummings, said it was “unconscionable” for Democrats to refuse to consider increased penalties for gun crimes and tightening mental health laws.

Meanwhile, The Daily Star obtained Otsego County statistics showing that the county revenue from pistol permits increased by more than 50 percent in 2012 over what it collected one year earlier — a total of $8,774 for the first 11 months of 2012 versus $5,648 for the entire 12 months of 2011.

Sheriff Richard Devlin Jr., who said it appears that the increase was driven by people adding guns to their existing permits more than by the issuance of permits to people who never had one before. A permit costs $101.50, while amending a permit runs $3 per each transaction.

Devlin said it wasn’t immediately clear why some people are acquiring more handguns to add to their permits.

As for the debate over gun control, the sheriff said he would like to allow law enforcement agencies to be able to share more information with regard persons taken into custody under mental-health law provisions when they pose a danger to themselves or others. He said his own agency — which administers the pistol permits in the county — only finds out about such mental-health encounters when his own deputies are directly involved.

“We need to fix some of the loopholes before they go out and draw up new laws,” Devlin said.