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Gun control measures approved in New York

Karen DeWitt


The New York State Legislature built on the state’s 2013 gun control laws Tuesday, passing measures to extend the waiting period for background checks for some purchasers and to forbid teachers from bringing guns to school.

At a news conference before the measures were voted on, Senate Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said there have been 27 mass shootings in the U.S. already in 2019.

“Every day, it seems, we wake up to the headlines of another mass shooting, another horrific gun crime,” Stewart-Cousins said.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said “thoughts and prayers” are not enough. He said the bills will permit judges to issue an “extreme risk protection order” to authorize police to temporarily remove guns from a household if a person in the home is deemed by a school official or law enforcement to be a potential danger to themselves or others.

“And keep a person who is a threat to themselves or others from possessing a gun for up to one year,” Heastie said.

Another measure extends the waiting period for background checks for gun purchasers for up to 30 days. Stewart-Cousins said the background checks of 91 percent of gun purchasers take only a few minutes, but for about 9 percent, there are questions raised. Under the current law, those purchasers are often sold the guns anyway.

“The FBI even says that it takes at least 25 days,” she said. “We want to expand it so that all the appropriate checks will be done.”

The legislation further restricts bump stocks, the devices used to turn semiautomatic weapons into machine guns and used in the 2017 Las Vegas shooting where 58 people were killed. The use of bump stocks are already forbidden; now the sale and possession of the devices will be banned.

Another measure prohibits teachers from being asked by school administrators to bring guns to school to protect the students. Among those who support that measure are the parents of Scott Beigel, one of the victims in the Parkland, Florida, school shooting. Beigel, a Long Island native who was a geography teacher and cross country coach at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, died saving his students from a mass shooter on Feb. 14, 2018.

His mother, Linda Beigel Schulman, said her son never would have wanted to have to bring a weapon to his classroom.

“Arming teachers is something that to me is ridiculous,” Beigel Schuman said. “He would never have wanted to be armed.”

In the Senate, Republican senators objected to the ban on teachers carrying weapons. Sen. Andrew Lanza said the bill restricts local control of schools, and the Second Amendment rights of New Yorkers. And he called the bill a “red herring” that won’t keep schoolchildren safe.

“My fear, as long as we keep talking about bills like this, is that the only people carrying guns in schools are going to be the bad guys, and that’s a problem,” Lanza said. “And this bill does not address that.”

The bill does continue to permit school safety officers to carry guns.

Nearly all of the 23 GOP senators voted against many of the gun control measures, although 10 Republican senators did vote in favor of a measure to aid gun buy-back programs.  

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who championed the 2013 gun control laws known as the SAFE Act, and convinced the then-Republican-led state Senate to pass it, met with victims of gun violence before the vote. Cuomo appealed to opponents of the bills, saying the measures don’t impinge on the Second Amendment. 

“We have six years of history to show that the planet does not stop spinning, people don't lose guns, it doesn't bankrupt an industry. None of those myths that they scare you with come true,” Cuomo said. “They're just common-sense reforms.” 

Cuomo has promised to sign the bills. 

Legislative leaders say they are still vetting more gun control legislation. The bills include including a ban on guns manufactured by 3-D printers, and a law that requires guns to be stored in a secure location.

“This is not an every-six-year exercise,” Stewart-Cousins said.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.