New York isn’t exactly representative of the American political landscape, but when it comes to the issue of gun control, the Empire State could be a good indicator for the rest of the country. On Tuesday New York became the first state to pass tough new gun control measures in the aftermath of the tragedy in Newtown. Governor Andrew Cuomo made gun control a priority after the school shooting in neighboring Connecticut, and now his state will boast the strictest gun laws in the nation.
At first glance, that news might not be such a shocker, given New York’s reputation for progressive views on social issues. But what might come as a surprise is the less-well known but significant influence the National Rifle Association wields in New York State politics. The NRA was founded in New York in 1871, and since 2003, the group has donated more campaign cash in the Empire State than any other state in the country. According to the National Institute on Money in State Politics, over the past nine years the NRA has contributed $232,400 to New York legislators and political committees. Behind New York are Washington State and Arizona, in second and third place as the NRA’s top recipients of campaign contributions. During that same period, from 2003-2012, the group infused Washington State politics with $205,500, followed by $197,165 in Arizona.
The fact that New York has adopted the nation’s toughest gun control measures in the face of the NRA’s political clout could send a message to Washington. The president is scheduled to announce his new gun control proposals at the White House on Wednesday. In the final press conference of his first term on Monday, President Obama reiterated his support for a federal ban on assault weapons. Yet many in Washington have cast doubt on the prospect that an assault weapons ban could pass Congress. The NRA’s influence on many Republicans and some Democrats has led members of both parties to question the ability of the White House to revive the assault weapons ban, which expired in 2004. But if the bipartisan passage of the tough new gun safety law in New York State is any indication, the NRA may not be such an insurmountable roadblock after all.
“I hope that what Governor Cuomo did becomes a national model,” said New York Rep. Steve Israel, appearing on Andrea Mitchell Reports as the New York State Assembly considered the new bill that had already passed the Senate. “Not only did he pass common sense gun safety laws, but he did it in a bipartisan way.”
Late Monday night, the State’s Republican-controlled Senate approved the “NY SAFE Act” by a vote of 43-18. The State Assembly, where Democrats have a substantial majority, followed in the Senate’s footsteps on Tuesday afternoon.
Rep. Israel (D-N.Y.) hopes that the gun safety measure itself will serve as a model for the country, and that Congress will take some notes from New York on how to compromise and find common ground. “Republican State Senators voted for it, Democratic State Senators voted for it, conservative members, and progressive members. They showed the United States of America–under Governor Cuomo’s leadership–what can be done when you’re willing to compromise and pursue common sense.”
Governor Cuomo is expected to sign the new measures into law on Tuesday, despite the NRA’s statement denouncing it as an “all-out assault on the Second Amendment and the law-abiding citizens in New York.”
New York already had some of the toughest gun laws in the country, but these new measures will make them even tougher. The new law bans the sale and possession of high-capacity magazines, and tightens the ban on assault weapons. The expanded definition of assault weapons will now include semiautomatic rifles with detachable magazines and at least one military-style feature, along with semiautomatic shotguns with one military-style feature. The law would allow New Yorkers who already own these guns to keep them, but they would be required to register them with the state.
One key element of the broad new measure is that it addresses the relationship between mental health and gun violence, limiting access to firearms for the mentally ill. While Rep. Israel called the bill “one of the most sensible and comprehensive gun safety measures in the country,” he told Andrea Mitchell Reports that a law in New York will do little to solve the nation’s epidemic of gun violence.
“If you don’t have background checks in other states, if you don’t have access to mental health screenings and programs, if you don’t have regulation of assault magazines, and if those weapons can permeate New York’s borders, it makes it tougher,” Israel said. “Because what we’ve achieved in New York won’t be as effective if the rest of the country doesn’t join us.”