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NY Legislature passes bill to take guns away from mentally ill

Linda Beigel Schulman holds a photograph of her

Linda Beigel Schulman holds a photograph of her son Scott Beigel, who was killed by gun violence in the Parkland, Florida school shootings. Schulman and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo spoke along with gun safety advocates in the Red Room of the state Capitol during a news conference on Tuesday. (AP Photo/Hans Pennink) Credit: AP/Hans Pennink

ALBANY — The State Legislature on Tuesday passed a “red-flag” bill that would take guns away from legal gun owners who judges determine are mentally ill.

The Democratic-led State Senate passed the key measure 42-21 as well as related gun control measures, mostly along party lines. 

The Assembly passed the red-flag law 83-32 and the other measures along party lines.

“I have no more tears and the tears I had were bitter tears,” said Assemb. Charles Lavine (D-Glen Cove). "There is no more time for sanctimonious and hollow offerings of our thoughts and prayers … but we remain silent no longer.”

The package also extends the potential waiting period for buying a gun up to 30 days and would ban the arming of teachers as a safeguard against school shootings under a bill sponsored by State Sen. Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach).

“If thousands of people were dying year after year after year of some disease, we would spare absolutely no cost until we found a cure,” said State Sen. Alessandra Biaggi (D-Mount Vernon). “But for gun violence we are told there really is no solution . . . That the right to own guns is more important than the right to live. That, to me, is truly insane.”

Several Republicans said the new Democratic majority is pushing bills that are redundant or will be ineffective in order to suit their liberal base and erode the constitutional right to possess firearms.

“Law-abiding gun owners are some of the strongest advocates for increased mental health services,” said State Sen. Pamela Helming (R-Canandaigua). However, “This gun control package pushed today has little to do with public safety and all to do with politics.”

Cuomo said he will sign the bills into law but he expects a legal challenge to the red-flag law, which for the first time would do what opponents of gun control have warned about: lead to government taking guns away from citizens despite the Second Amendment right to own firearms.

Cuomo noted the state’s 6-year-old SAFE Act already requires mental health background checks and so this new measure is simply an extension. The new bills address legal gun owners who develop mental illness after they obtained firearms. A judge, acting on a concern of a family member or acquaintance, would have to consider the input of physicians. The gun owner has a right to appeal after a judge issues the order.

“There is no culture that says, ‘We think everyone should have a gun if they are mentally ill,' " Cuomo said.

Linda Beigel Schulman of Dix Hills, whose son, Scott Beigel, was killed in the Parkland, Florida, shooting, was in Albany to watch the bill get passed. After the school shooting, several teachers said they had suspected the shooter was a danger, but there was no legal way to take action.

“If the red-flag law was in effect, my son would be here,” Schulman said.

The red-flag bill would allow a judge to issue an “extreme risk protection order” that would prohibit a person deemed to be a risk from buying or possessing a firearm for as long as a year. There would be hearings and due process to oppose the effort. The order would expire after a year but could be extended.

Two other measures would establish a waiting period of up to 30 days for a background check before a firearm could be purchased. Under current federal law, a gun dealer must sell a firearm to a customer after three days even if a background check hasn't been completed.

Another measure would ban “bump stocks,” which can allow a rifle’s trigger to be pulled fast to shoot many bullets in seconds. 

"New York is mostly catching up to other more liberal states,” said Robert Spitzer, a distinguished professor of political science at the State University of New York at Cortland who wrote “The Politics of Gun Control" on gun laws nationwide. “These actions do lend further momentum to the spreading movement to tighten up gun laws in more states, even including some conservative ones.”

The state Pistol and Rifle Association didn’t respond to a request for comment.

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