ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Wednesday trashed Washington’s efforts to enhance background checks on gun buyers as “only better than nothing” and said federal gun control proposals have become a victim of too much public debate.
He praised his state gun control measure rushed into law after closed-door negotiations in January, while discounting criticism as coming from “extremists” who say New York’s law misses the target of gun violence.
In Washington, “We’re down to just improving background checks, which I said is better than nothing, but only better than nothing,” Cuomo said on public radio’s “Capitol Pressroom.” ”I think it’s a damning commentary on this Congress and the extremists in this Congress. I think it points out the intelligence of what we did in New York state, and thank God we did.”
The effort in Washington this week no longer includes an assault weapon ban. It would expand background checks to more gun buyers to help keep firearms from criminals and people with mental illness. That’s been a chief goal of Democratic President Barack Obama and gun control advocates who say it will prevent criminals and other potentially dangerous people from getting weapons.
The federal background check system for licensed gun dealers would be expanded to all commercial sales including those at gun shows and online. The bill also would tighten federal laws against illegal gun sales and slightly increases federal aid for school safety.
New York’s law goes further. It expands a ban on military-style weapons, adds another requirement for mental health professionals to report threats, limits magazines to seven bullets, and taxes bullets, as well as creates a registry to keep guns out of the wrong hands. Several errors were fixed in March, including lifting the ban on the sale of magazines with more than seven bullets because seven-bullet magazines aren’t made, and an exemption for Hollywood to continue to film violent movies and TV shows in New York.
“Washington is having an open debate on the subject,” said Republican Assemblyman Brian Kolb, the chamber’s minority leader. “What’s really going on nationally is there are a lot of people trying to get illegal guns off the street and there are people with mental issues who shouldn’t have guns. There are a lot of people including Republicans who are supportive of that.”
Kolb said Cuomo’s Safe Act “absolutely misses the point,” while public debate in Washington and nationwide have focused on preventing tragedies. Cuomo avoided public hearings and days of debate by ordering a suspension of the three-day public review of bills required by the constitution.
“You always respect anyone else’s opinion in a public policy debate,” said the Canandaigua Republican. “But you have a lot of people who feel the Safe Act focuses on law-abiding owners than illegal gun dealers and those who have no business possessing guns.”
The governor said, “There was plenty of debate.”
The package was negotiated in closed-door sessions on Jan. 14, announced late that night, passed by the Senate later that night, by the Assembly early Jan. 15, and immediately signed by Cuomo. New York beat the Obama administration and other states, including Connecticut, in enacting tougher gun controls, one month after the Newtown, Conn., school shooting.
Cuomo says only “extremists” oppose the New York measure, although polls taken after the law was approved showed a deep drop in support for the governor among Republicans, moderates and some Democrats.
“The extreme fringe conservatives (say), ‘Gun rights! The government has no right to tell me, government has no right to regulate, I need my gun to defend me against government.’ Yes, they are against it, but they are the extremists and the extremists shouldn’t win, especially on this issue when it is so important to the majority.
“In politics, we have to be willing to take on the extremists otherwise you will see paralysis,” Cuomo said, adding that the opportunity for substantial federal action is lost. “And that’s what you are seeing in Washington, you are seeing a government paralyzed by the extremists. That’s what we’ve avoided in New York state.”
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