New York, Maryland Governors Hot on Gun Control at Political Risk

Cuomo, O'Malley's gun-control plans could complicate any presidential ambitions.

January 14, 2013, 2:22 PM

Jan. 15, 2013— -- The two governors leading the debate on stricter gun laws -- New York's Andrew Cuomo and Maryland's Martin O'Malley -- not only want to enact legislation that would make their respective states the toughest in the country, they are both widely believed to have presidential aspirations and could face each other in 2016 or a future Democratic primary.

Cuomo laid out his legislation in a State of the State address last week and it was passed by the state Senate Monday, while O'Malley described his plan Monday at a gun summit at Johns Hopkins University.

Both of their plans are bold and expansive.

Cuomo and New York lawmakers struck a deal late Monday to pass the first gun-control measures since the rampage killing at Sandy Hook Elementary School last month that left 20 first-graders and six educators dead.

What are the two plans?

New York:

The agreement will tighten New York's loophole-riddled existing ban on so-called assault weapons and, among other things, would limit the capacity of magazines to seven bullets, down from 10. The legislation would also require background checks of ammunition buyers and gun sales, including private ones; tougher penalties for illegal gun use; a one-state check on all firearms purchases; and programs to cut gun violence in high-crime neighborhoods.

New York's plan will also aim to keep guns from people who are mentally ill. The legislation would empower judges to require people determined to be a threat to others get outpatient care. The plan also requires that when a mental health professional determines a gun owner is likely to hurt himself or others, the risk must be reported and the gun removed by law enforcement.

During a late night press conference Monday night, Cuomo said, "Enough people have lost their lives. Let's act."


Like Cuomo's plan in New York, O'Malley's proposal in Maryland is expected to pass the state's Democratic-controlled state legislature.

"There is a sickness in our country. That sickness is gun violence," O'Malley said Monday at the beginning of a two-day gun violence summit at Johns Hopkins University.

"Perhaps there is no way to completely prevent the next Newtown tragedy. But then again, perhaps there is. None of us can predict the future. ... And, yet, we know every life is valuable."

O'Malley added that his plan "isn't about ideology." Instead, it's "about the dignity of every individual life. The dignity of every one of those little kids."

The former Baltimore mayor's plan would ban military-style "assault weapons," which, he said, "have no place on the streets of Baltimore or in any other neighborhood in our state."

It would also limit the size of magazines and, among the tougher proposals, would include a requirement for most prospective gun buyers to provide fingerprints to state police, undergo a background check and complete a mandatory gun-safety course in order to obtain an owner's permit.

Buyers of shotguns and hunting rifles would be exempt from the measure. Currently, only Maryland residents seeking a concealed-carry permit must submit their fingerprints.

As with New York's plan, it would also address mental health. And O'Malley's plan calls for data-sharing, investments in treatment and the creation of a treatment program called the Center for Excellence on Early Intervention for Serious Mental Illness to "utilize more effective early intervention strategies."

Also, like Cuomo's plan, O'Malley did not embrace the National Rifle Association's call for armed guards outside of every school, but he did say he wanted to create a new Maryland Center for School Safety that would bring together both law enforcement and school officials.

It is a $25 million project to improve school safety in the form of auto-locking doors and mandatory guest check-in requirements, among others proposals.

In his State of the State address, Cuomo noted that he is a gun owner himself and his proposal "is not taking away people's guns." In Baltimore Monday, the Maryland governor also said his goal was not "to ban all guns."

"At the same time, we know that it makes no sense to blame everything but guns for the violence in our neighborhoods," O'Malley said.

An ABC News-Washington Post poll released Monday, one month after the Newtown tragedy, found Americans do favor gun-control measures. Eighty-eight percent of Americans favor background checks on firearms buyers at gun shows, 76 percent support checks on buyers of ammunition and 71 percent back a new federal database to track all gun sales.

In addition, 65 percent of Americans support banning high-capacity ammunition magazines, 58 percent favor banning the sale of so-called assault weapons, 55 percent support the NRA's call for armed guards in schools and 51 percent would ban semi-automatic handguns.

As for the duo's future ambitions, Amy Walter, the national editor of the Cook Political Report, told ABC News that the two governors' plans put together so quickly after the Newtown tragedy points to "why it is so much easier to be a governor than a United States senator when it comes to running for president."

"You can point to a record of actual accomplishments," Walter said. "You don't have to wait for 535 other people and the president to decide what you do is OK. It's the benefit of being an executive."

Walter says the expansive plans "certainly will help whatever base building they are trying to do right now."

"Before the gun issue, these two guys were probably best known for their work on gay marriage," Walter said.

"I guess the question is, at the end of the day, what is going to be more of a wedge issue: gay marriage or gun control. I think there are a lot of people would argue guns are more problematic, but we will see."

Walter also noted that Cuomo, 55, and O'Malley, 49, are weighing politically whether these gun-control measures would mean they are "going to do any worse than President Obama?"

"No, so they just have to be like Obama and say, 'We aren't going to win rural stretches, but we will win suburbs and major metropolitan areas.' And they need to make sure they can do that."

Either way, it shows there has been a real shift in the party since Al Gore's loss in 2000. Then, Walter says, Democrats said it was his position on guns as well as President Clinton's 1994 "assault weapons" ban that "alienated rural Americans and the South, but what O'Malley and Cuomo seem to be saying is we aren't worried about it."

ABC News' Matthew Larotonda contributed to this report.