Jan. 15, 2013— -- Today New York became the first state to pass a gun control law -- the toughest in the nation -- since the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting massacre last month.
Acting one month and a day since the rampage killing that left 20 first-graders and six educators dead, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the bill into law shortly after 5 p.m.
Called the New York Safe Act, the law includes a tougher assault weapons ban that broadens the definition of what constitutes an assault weapon, and limits the capacity of magazines to seven bullets, down from 10. The law also requires background checks of ammunition and gun buyers, even in private sales, imposes tougher penalties for illegal gun use, a one-state check on all firearms purchases, and programs to cut gun violence in high-crime neighborhoods.
As he signed the bill into law, Cuomo said it was not only "the first bill" but the "best bill."
"I'm proud to be a New Yorker, because New York is doing something, because we are fighting back, because, yes, we've had tragedies, and yes, we've had too many innocent people lose their lives, and yes, it's unfortunate that it took those tragedies to get us to this point, but let's at least learn from what's happened, let's at least be able to say to people, yes, we went through terrible situations, but we saw, we learned, we responded, and we acted, and we are doing something about it," Cuomo said. "We are not victims.
"You can overpower the extremists with intelligence and with reason and with commonsense," Cuomo continued, "and you can make this state a safer state."
New York's law also aims to keep guns out of the hands of those will mental illness. The law gives judges the power to require those who pose a threat to themselves or others get outpatient care. The law also requires that when a mental health professional determines a gun owner is likely to do harm, the risk must be reported and the gun removed by law enforcement.
The legislation also includes what is called a "Webster provision," named for the two firefighters ambushed on Christmas Eve in Webster, N.Y. The measure would mandate a life sentence with no chance of parole for anyone who kills a first responder.
The National Rifle Association issued a statement after the bill's signing, saying it was "outraged at the draconian gun control bill that was rushed through ... late Monday evening."
"Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature orchestrated a secretive end-run around the legislative and democratic process and passed sweeping anti-gun measures with no committee hearings and no public input," the statement read. "These gun control schemes have failed in the past and will have no impact on public safety and crime. Sadly, the New York Legislature gave no consideration to that reality. While lawmakers could have taken a step toward strengthening mental health reporting and focusing on criminals, they opted for trampling the rights of law-abiding gun owners in New York, and they did it under a veil of secrecy in the dark of night. The legislature caved to the political demands of a governor and helped fuel his personal political aspirations."
It's widely believed that Cuomo does have presidential aspirations, possibly in 2016.
The NRA added a veiled threat to lawmakers who might pass similar gun-control legislation: "The NRA and our New York members remain committed to having a meaningful conversation about protecting our children and will speak frankly about the lawmakers who have failed to do so."
As to whether the legislation was rushed through -- it passed on only the second day of the 2013 legislative session -- Cuomo said it sent a "message of necessity.
"As soon as people found out that I was proposing a specific law that was going to ban the sale of assault weapons, we were afraid that would actually cause a rush on the market of people who wanted to buy assault weapons," Cuomo said at a news conference after the signing. "If we had made that announcement and then waited for three days we believe you would have seen an unprecedented period possibly of people buying assault weapons before the law was passed just to get in under the wire, if you will. That would have been the exact opposite of what we were trying to achieve."
As the governor did during his State of the State address last week, he said the new measures were "not about outlawing guns," adding he owned a Remington shotgun himself.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has spoken out on the issue of gun control since the Newtown, Conn., shootings and founded the group Mayors Against Illegal Guns, put out a statement after the signing in which he praised Cuomo and the New York Legislature, saying they "have shown that it's possible to act quickly – and in a bipartisan fashion – to enact gun laws that will make our communities safer.
"The responsible and comprehensive gun reform bills the governor signed into law today will help keep guns away from criminals and others who are already prohibited from purchasing them," Bloomberg said in the statement. "The bills will also strengthen the state's tough but sensible restrictions against military-style weapons and high capacity magazines. The bipartisan cooperation that produced these bills sets an example for Washington to follow, and it makes clear that the Senate's new majority coalition is capable of working with the Assembly and delivering results for New York state."