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State senators face off over move to force vote on gun control

The state Senate chamber in Albany is seen

The state Senate chamber in Albany is seen in May 2017. Credit: AP / Hans Pennink

ALBANY — In a heated faceoff on the state Senate floor, Democrats tried Wednesday to force Republicans to take a vote on a series of stalled gun-control bills — including one to ban bump stocks — but failed in a party-line, procedural vote.

Republicans who control the Senate immediately responded by promising to take up measures to beef up school security and earmark money for placing armed guards in any school district that wants them. But they would not address any of the Democratic bills.

Democrats, meanwhile, said improving school security was fine, but mass shootings occur in far more places than schools — including movie theaters, concert venues and churches.

“Are we going to harden our movie theaters? Are we going to harden our churches? . . . Or are we just going to have armed guards everywhere because we don’t know where the next mass shooting is going to be?” Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Queens) said during the debate on the Senate floor. “How about we take the ‘shooting’ out of ‘mass shooting’?”

The action came two weeks after the Feb. 14 school massacre in Parkland, Florida, in which 17 were killed. The vote Wednesday lays the groundwork for the issue to not only be debated more fully later in New York’s 2018 legislative session, but also to be used in Senate election campaigns this fall.

Senate Republicans have been cool to most Democratic proposals, although some expressed support for a measure to toughen gun laws regarding those with domestic violence records. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, a Democrat, has said he’d be open to state changes, but he has focused more on trying to pressure Congress to act on national legislation.

The upheaval Wednesday began just after the Senate gaveled in. Democrats tried to force a vote on four bills by proposing a “hostile amendment” to an unrelated bill on the floor regarding organ donations. Along with banning bump stocks (devices which are seen as turning semi-automatic weapons into automatic weapons), the insurgents proposed toughening background checks for gun purchasers and creating an institute to study gun-related violence.

Sen. Tom Croci (R-Sayville), who was acting as temporary Senate president on Wednesday, declared the amendments “not germane” to the organ-donation bill, blocking a vote. Democrats, who currently number 30 in a 63-seat chamber that has two vacancies, failed to override his ruling.

Minutes before the Democrats’ amendment attempt, Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan (R-East Northport) issued a statement saying Republicans would soon propose a series of school security measures such as “more money for security cameras and the hardening of school doors,” funds earmarked “to put a cop or an armed resource officer in every school that wants one,” and the installation of “panic buttons.”

And while Democrats said the focus should be on guns, Flanagan promised a “much stronger response to the mental health issues at the heart of much of this violence.”

“Every responsible option is on the table, and wherever we think we can make a difference, we will act,” the Senate leader said.

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