Connecticut school shooting

New York enacts 'toughest' gun law in US

Rapid reaction to Newtown school massacre fuels national debate on guns

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 17 January, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 17 January, 2013, 4:11am

New York has passed what supporters called the toughest gun ownership law in the country, becoming the first US state to impose new restrictions in the wake of last month's school massacre in Connecticut.

Lawmakers in the lower house of the state Assembly on Tuesday voted 104-43 in favour of the measure, which had been approved by the upper house in a 43-18 vote late Monday.

Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo, who rushed through the legislation, welcomed the assembly's overwhelming support, saying: "We are fighting back."

"I am proud to be a New Yorker today," Cuomo said as he signed the law. "Not just because New York has the first bill, but because New York has the best bill."

The measures, which include an expanded ban on sales of military-style assault rifles, were linked directly to the national horror at the December 14 massacre of 20 six- and seven-year-olds and six staff at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

Those killings sparked a major national debate over the need to curb America's liberal gun laws. US President Barack Obama was due yesterday to unveil his own proposals.

New York's rapid action on the opening days of its new session grabbed national attention and ramped up momentum for supporters of sweeping new restrictions, particularly on assault rifles - the kind of weapon the Newtown killer used.

New York city Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a prominent critic of lax gun rules, said the New York vote proved "it's possible to act quickly - and in a bipartisan fashion - to enact gun laws that will make our communities safer".

However, the biggest gun owners' group, the National Rifle Association (NRA), said it was "outraged at the draconian gun control bill".

"The legislature caved to the political demands of a governor and helped fuel his political aspirations," the NRA said of Cuomo, who is seen as eyeing a 2016 presidential bid.

The new law, called the NY Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act, or NY SAFE, expands an existing ban on assault weapon sales.

It broadens the definition of such weapons, banning semi- automatic pistols and rifles with detachable magazines and one military-style feature. New Yorkers who already own such guns could keep them but would be required to register .

It reduces the maximum magazine size from 10 rounds to seven and extends the requirement for background checks to all sales, including private deals.

Another notable aspect of the new rules is emphasis on preventing the mentally ill from gaining access to weapons. An existing law allowing judges to order mentally ill people to get treatment was strengthened.

A poll from the Pew Research Centre released on Tuesday showed 80 per cent of Americans favour preventing mentally ill people from getting firearms, while 67 per cent backed the often controversial idea of maintaining a federal database on gun purchases.

Additional reporting by The New York Times