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Editorial: On guns, steps toward sanity

New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, center, speaks

New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, center, speaks at a news conference announcing an agreement with legislative leaders on New York's Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act in the Red Room at the Capitol in Albany. With him are secretary to the governor Larry Schwartz, left, and Lt. Gov. Robert Duffy. (Jan. 14, 2013) Photo Credit: AP

The Legislature on Monday night began passage of bills to give New York's assault weapons ban a much-needed tightening -- defining the guns in a way to make it harder for manufacturers to evade.

But while the ban represents a major political victory for Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, it will not have a strong practical impact. Given the number of illegal weapons smuggled into the state, only a nationwide ban could do that. Unfortunately, given white-hot opposition in Congress to a federal ban, Vice President Joe Biden may not even include one on the list of gun-control ideas he will present to President Barack Obama on Tuesday.

Perhaps the biggest benefit of a successful new law in New York is showing that the nation's powerful gun lobby can be stopped.

Why ban assault weapons? Gun rights advocates say mass murderers will just ignore the law. But as Mother Jones magazine recently pointed out in a major investigative piece, of roughly 62 mass shootings nationally since 1982, three-fourths of the 142 weapons used by the shooters were obtained legally. And about 25 percent of all guns used in these killings were assault weapons. A tough national ban could make a major difference.

The suite of bills agreed upon by legislators makes New York the first state to:

Ban all pre-1994 high-capacity ammunition magazines.

Ban any magazine with more than seven rounds.

Conduct real-time background checks of ammunition purchasers so authorities can be alerted to high-volume purchases.

The proposal also includes a measure giving law enforcement officers more authority over the mentally ill when the pose a threat to themselves or others.

These measures -- even fortified with federal action -- wouldn't end the American epidemic of gun violence.

But the package isn't just a simplistic overreaction to the horrors of Newtown, as some claim. The measures are crucial tools for curbing and preventing gun violence where we can and when we can. Just think of them as one overdue step toward sanity.