Guv takes aim at gun control in address

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ALBANY -- Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo used his third State of the State address Wednesday to make a fervent plea to enact the "toughest assault weapons ban in the country."

Less than one month after the Newtown, Conn., school massacre, Cuomo called for tightening the state's definition of assault weapons and lowering the maximum magazine capacity from 10 rounds. And legislative leaders said they are close to an agreement on a gun law package.

New York already bans assault weapons. But manufacturers can avoid having certain guns labeled as such by selling them without, for example, specific ammunition clips or types of grips -- things that can be added later by the purchaser.

Cuomo, noting that he owns a shotgun, said his proposal was about "common sense measures" and not about taking away hunters' guns. "Forget the extremists," Cuomo told a capacity crowd at the Empire State Plaza convention center. "It's simple: No one hunts with an assault rifle. No one needs 10 bullets to kill a deer! And too many innocent people have died already. End the madness now!"

In his roughly 75-minute address, Cuomo also spent considerable time talking about the need to rebuild Long Island and New York City in the aftermath of superstorm Sandy, including "flood-proofing" subways and privatizing the Long Island Power Authority.

He even threw a curveball -- proposing, for now, to develop three casinos upstate and none downstate.

The Democratic governor rolled through a list of other initiatives, including raising the minimum wage, lengthening the school day or year, decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana, public financing of state elections, and expanding women's reproductive rights and addressing pay equity and other forms of gender-based discrimination. He called it "clearly the most ambitious agenda I have outlined in my three" State of the State addresses.

Before his speech, Cuomo presented state flags to the families of Tomasz Kaczowka and Michael Chiapperini, two volunteer firefighters in upstate Webster, who were killed during a Christmas Eve ambush. William Spengler Jr., who had a long criminal record, set fire to his home in suburban Rochester before dawn. When first responders arrived, he opened fire, killing Kaczowka and Chiapperini and wounding two others. Spengler then fatally shot himself, officials say.

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Cuomo has aggressively pursued gun-control negotiations with State Senate and Assembly leaders. Talks center around changing the state's definition of an assault weapon -- a statute Cuomo has said resembles Swiss cheese -- and lowering the maximum magazine capacity to seven rounds.

Cuomo also proposed requiring background checks for any private gun sale, making handgun licenses renewable upstate (instead of lifetime licenses) and increasing penalties for illegal guns.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) said the parties were "95 percent" of the way toward an agreement. He said assault weapons are "designed to kill as many people as possible as quickly as possible. We don't need them in New York State."

Senate co-leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) said he thought a deal on gun legislation could be wrapped up by Cuomo and leaders this week and presented to rank-and-file legislators as early as Monday. Legislators were slated to leave Albany Wednesday night or Thursday morning, returning for the first legislative session Monday.

But Skelos indicated Republicans are still holding out for a "comprehensive" gun-legislation package that "goes after illegal guns and increases penalties," along with other measures.

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"If you look at most of the individuals who have committed these horrendous crimes [they] have had mental health problems and [the crimes] are done with illegal guns," Skelos said. "When you negotiate, you also have to have a balance, and we want . . . [to address] the root cause of most handgun crimes in this state."The gun used in the Newtown massacre, the Bushmaster AR-15, is manufactured by Remington Arms in Ilion, a Mohawk Valley village. Recent media reports show that New York has spent $6 million in subsidies to bring and keep jobs at the plant.

With Joan Gralla

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