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January 16, 2013

Legislature acted wisely on gun law

New York’s Legislature, known for a lot of things — mostly bad — but rarely for speed, has acted swiftly and wisely on its way to a new law that strengthens gun control in the state.

The bill, passed by the Senate on Monday night and the Assembly on Tuesday, needed a “message of necessity” from Gov. Andrew Cuomo, which allows the legislators to skip the normal three-day “aging” period. Cuomo, who has been advocating quick action on making New York’s the toughest gun laws in the country, was happy to oblige.

The bill, among other things, broadens the definition of what is considered an assault weapon in the state, creates a state registry of assault rifles and increases penalties for anyone convicted of a crime that involves a gun.

A focal point in the national and state debate on gun control has been what constitutes an assault weapon. The Gun Digest Book of Assault Weapons describes “true assault weapons (as) fully automatic, selective-fire or equipped with mission-specific features designed only for military and law enforcement applications.”

The federal Assault Weapons Ban, in effect from 1994 until it expired in 2004, banned 19 specific semi-automatic guns. These firearms could — after firing a bullet — eject the spent shell casing and have another round in the chamber ready to be shot. Only one round could be fired per pull of the trigger, as opposed to an automatic weapon, which could fire multiple rounds. There were also other restrictions.

New York’s new law will define a banned assault rifle as any that has a telescoping stock, bayonet attachment or a pistol grip. Anyone who possessed these weapons before the law goes into effect can keep them, but ownership cannot be transferred.

Penalties are being increased for those who use a firearm in a criminal act, and the bill expands mental health professionals’ options for committing people they consider to be a danger to the public.

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