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Cuomo's State of the State address makes fervent pitch for gun control

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo delivers his third

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo delivers his third State of the State address at the Empire State Plaza Convention Center in Albany. (Jan. 9, 2013) Credit: AP

ALBANY -- Less than one month after the Newtown, Conn., school massacre, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo used his third State of the State address to make a fervent pitch for enacting the "toughest assault weapons ban in the country."

But he worked up the most passion in calling for tightening the state's definition of assault weapons and lowering the maximum magazine capacity from 10 rounds. Cuomo, noting that he owns a shotgun, said his proposal was about "common sense measures" and not about taking away hunters' guns. New York already bans assault weapons. But manufacturers can avoid having certain guns labeled as assault weapons by selling them without, say, certain ammunition clips or certain types of grips -- things that can be added later by the purchaser.

"Forget the extremists," Cuomo, building toward a shout, 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 a roughly 75-minute address, the Democrat also rolled through a laundry list of initiatives that would appeal to liberals, including raising the minimum wage, decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana and expanding women's reproductive rights. Previously, Cuomo, mentioned as a 2016 presidential candidate, has come under criticism from more left-wing Democrats as too cozy with Republicans.

He 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. Cuomo called it "clearly the most ambitious agenda I have outlined in my three" State of the State addresses.

Cuomo has aggressively pursued gun 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 it 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 last night or this morning, returning for the first legislative session day 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.

"If you look at most of the individuals who have committed these horrendous crimes 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 make (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 in bringing and keeping jobs at the plant.


With Joan Gralla

State & Region