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NEW YORK: New York State lawmakers yesterday began final debate on one of the toughest gun control bills in the United States and the first major legislation on the matter since the killings at an elementary school in neighbouring Connecticut last month.
The Democrat-led state Assembly took up the bill passed late on Monday by the majority Republican state Senate. If approved as expected, it could be signed into law by Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo.
Cuomo pressed for passage of the bill a month after the mass shooting that killed 20 students and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. It includes an expanded ban on assault weapons, limits on ammunition capacity and new measures to keep guns out of the hands of mentally ill people.
It also mandates a life sentence without parole for anyone who murders a first responder, in response to the sniper deaths of two firefighters near Rochester who were ambushed by an arsonist gunman on Christmas Eve, just two weeks after the Newtown, Connecticut,
Yesterday in Danbury, Connecticut, not far from Newtown, gun control advocates gathered outside a Walmart store in a rally to demand Wal-Mart Stores Inc, the nation’s largest gun retailer, stop selling assault weapons. Among those expected to attend were Lori Haas, whose daughter was injured in the 2007 shooting at Virginia Tech, and Pam Simon, who was wounded in the 2011 shooting in Tucson, Arizona, that also critically injured former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.
The Newtown killings plunged the rural New England town of 27,000 into grief along with much of the nation and prompted President Barack Obama to form a task force headed by Vice President Joe Biden to find ways to curb gun violence. Biden is due to submit recommendations to the president later this week.
In a White House news conference on Monday, Obama signalled he will ask Congress to ban military-style assault weapons, stronger background checks for gun buyers and tighter controls on high-capacity magazine clips.
The assault rifle used in the Newtown attack is based on a military rifle and can be equipped with magazines that hold up to 30 rounds of ammunition.
New York’s bill tightens the state’s existing assault weapons ban to include semiautomatic weapons with detachable clips that have one feature associated with military weapons. The current ban includes assault weapons that have two military-style features.
The proposal also limits magazine capacity to no more than seven cartridges — the current limit is 10 cartridges — and requires a statewide re-registration of all handguns and grandfathered in assault weapons.
It also would require mental health professionals to report dangerous patients to county mental health officers for potential action and would add provisions to suspend or revoke licences for people found to pose a danger to themselves or others.
“I believe it is the most comprehensive package in the nation,” Cuomo told reporters after the vote on Monday.
“Much of this is common sense. Unfortunately, common sense has eluded us for many, many years when it comes to this issue,” Cuomo said.
The proposal was not directed at and would have no impact on hunters or sport shooters, Cuomo said.
Cuomo said last week that the current ban on assault weapons had so many loopholes that it was unenforceable. For example, current law bans magazines that hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition, but exempts those made before 1994.
The new legislation would also increase monitoring of high-volume ammunition purchases in-person or over the Internet and current owners of assault weapons would be required to register them, as is required with handguns. REUTERS