Gun control bill passes New York Senate, heads for Assembly

A new package of gun laws that includes a stricter definition of banned "assault weapons" and new provisions on gun ownership and mental illness is making its way through the New York State Legislature. Late on Monday night, the Republican-controlled state Senate voted 43-18 to pass S.2230, which will now head for the Democratic-controlled Assembly and likely passage into law.

The New York Times reports that the gun bill was the result of a deal reached under pressure by Gov. Andrew Cuomo:

Mr. Cuomo, a Democrat, had pressed lawmakers to move quickly in response to Newtown, saying, “the people of this state are crying out for help.” And the Legislature proceeded with unusual haste: Monday was the first full day of this year’s legislative session.

“We don’t need another tragedy to point out the problems in the system,” Mr. Cuomo said at a news conference.

“Enough people have lost their lives,” he added. “Let’s act.”

Among the provisions of the bill is a ban on semiautomatic weapons with detachable magazines that also possess a "military feature." From the text of the bill, posted on the New York State Senate's website:

Some weapons are so dangerous and some ammunition devices so lethal that we simply cannot afford to continue selling them in our state. Assault weapons that have military-style features unnecessary for hunting and sporting purposes are this kind of weapon. The test adopted in this legislation is intended to bring a simplicity of definition focusing on the lethality of the weapon, amplified by the particular features.

People who already legally possess such weapons would be allowed to keep them, but will have to register them with the state.

The bill would also ban all ammunition magazines that hold more than ten rounds, including those that were "grandfathered in" under the state's last assault-weapon ban, and require that any magazines that are capable of holding between seven and ten rounds shall not contain more than seven rounds.

Under the new law, most private sales of guns will now be subject to a federal background check, closing a loophole that exempted such sales.

If passed, the bill would require mental health professionals to report their patients to local mental health officials if they believe they may be in danger of harming themselves or others, and law enforcement would be authorized to seize any firearms that person possesses:

When a Section 9.46 report is made, the Division of Criminal Justice Services will determine whether the person possesses a firearms license and, if so, will notify the appropriate local licensing official, who must suspend the license. The person's firearms will then be removed.

The bill also includes restrictions on gun ownership intended to protect domestic violence victims, and strengthens the provisions under which gun owners must surrender firearms when an order of protection is issued against them.

Among other changes to gun licensing law, the new law would establish a new statewide database of registered gun owners. In a nod to the controversy that erupted over a recent Journal-News story that published the names and addresses of gun permit holders in several New York State counties, officials would be prohibited from publicly disclosing names on the list.

Exempting registered gun owners from public disclosure law would prevent stories like the Journal-News's from being written -- but would also make other kinds of public-records journalism impossible.

For example, in 2011, the New York Times cross-checked names on a database of North Carolina concealed-weapon permit holders against known felons. The paper's investigation found more than 200 convicted felons who had mistakenly been issued concealed-weapon permits, including at least 10 who were convicted of murder or manslaughter, and in at least one case, spurred local officials to revoke the permit of a man who had been jailed for terrorizing his estranged wife and daughter by shooting at their house. Without access to North Carolina's concealed-weapon permit database, the investigation would not have been possible.

Another provision included in reaction to recent events: the so-called "Webster provision," also known as "Mark's Law," which imposes a mandatory life sentence without parole on anyone convicted of murdering a first responder.

Several Republican state Senators representing the Catskills region were among the 18 who voted against the bill: John Bonacic, who represents the 42nd District, and James Seward, who represents the 51st District. The 46th District is still without a sitting Senator,  as a ballot dispute between Republican George Amedore and Democrat Cecilia Tkaczyk works its way through the court system.

A full breakdown of who voted for or against the bill is posted along with the text of the bill on the New York State Senate website.

The New York State Assembly is expected to vote on the bill on Tuesday.