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NY's senators push gun-control proposals

U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer and U.S. Senator

U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer and U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand during a news conference urging Vice President Biden to include two additional gun-control proposals in his task force's final recommendations. (Jan. 6, 2013) Photo Credit: Charles Eckert

The legislative aftermath of the Connecticut school shootings is reverberating in New York with proposals for Albany and Washington to tighten gun regulation and stiffen penalties for criminals who misuse guns.

Gun-trafficking conspirators would face harsher punishments and nearly all prospective gun buyers would be forced to undergo background checks, under proposals from New York's two U.S. senators. They're submitting the ideas to a presidential task force considering gun-control issues.

"If I'm a gun runner, if I'm a straw buyer, if I'm a common criminal, I know where to get a gun without being checked to see if I have a criminal record or I'm mentally infirm," Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) told reporters yesterday in Manhattan.

Schumer and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) are sending their proposals to Vice President Joe Biden, who chairs the task force established after last month's shooting spree, in which a gunman killed 27 people and himself.

Under current law, only gun dealers must check whether prospective buyers are disqualified because of factors like criminal records or mental illnesses -- but private sellers, such as those at gun shows, are exempt from conducting those checks. The senators want near-universal background checks.

Also, the senators want tougher penalties for gun-trafficking "kingpins" by increasing penalties and prison sentences.

A representative of the National Rifle Association, which lobbies against gun laws it views as violating the Constitution's Second Amendment right to bear arms, could not be reached Sunday for comment.

The senators' proposals would target everyone in the supply chain, "from the person who buys the gun from the dealer to the person illegally selling the gun out of the trunk of his car to the kingpin who organizes this network," Gillibrand said.

"We can stem the flow of illegal guns that are coming into our neighborhoods," she said.

It's not clear whether the proposals would have stopped the Sandy Hook school killer, who used his mother's legally registered guns and killed her, but the senators said the aim is to combat illegal guns that kill thousands every year.

"Whether or not it would have prevented Sandy Hook is not really the issue," she said. "These measures would prevent other, similar crimes like what happened at Sandy Hook.

"If we had background checks for every person who was able to purchase a gun, it would protect many, many lives."

In Albany, State Senate co-leader Jeff Klein (D-Bronx) said Friday that Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo would soon unveil a plan that includes tightening loopholes in New York's assault weapons ban and limits on high-capacity magazines. Cuomo is pushing for New York to be the first state since the school killings to toughen gun laws. The other Senate co-leader, Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre), rolled out a set of Republican-backed proposals Saturday that called for stiffer penalties for possessing and selling illegal guns, possessing weapons on school grounds and increasing the charge, to first-degree murder, for killers of first responders.

But the Republican proposal omitted assault weapons -- drawing criticism from Cuomo and other Democrats. Cuomo said it "ignores the reality of gun violence."

Scott Reif, a Skelos spokesman, said Republicans would "consider any and all proposals," but added that a crackdown on illegal guns should be part of "any agreement on gun safety legislation."

With Yancey Roy

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