New York Governor Calls For Nation's 'Toughest' Ban On Assault Weapons

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo proposed tough new gun laws in his State of the State address on Wednesday. Audie Cornish talks to Joel Rose about the new laws, and their chances of passing a state legislature where Republicans hold considerable power.

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

And I'm Audie Cornish.

On the national stage and in two state capitals, gun violence was at the top of the agenda today. In Washington, Vice President Joe Biden is conducting a wide-ranging series of conversations about how to make the nation safer. He met with gun safety advocates, mental health organizations and victims groups.

BLOCK: In Connecticut, where the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School is a vivid memory, Governor Dan Malloy gave his State of the State address. He rejected the National Rifle Association's call for more guns in schools. And in New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo also gave his annual address. He proposed the nation's toughest ban on assault weapons.

GOVERNOR ANDREW CUOMO: End the madness now. Pass safe, reasonable gun control in the state of New York. Make this state safer. Save lives. Set an example for the rest of the nation. Let them look at New York and say, this is what you can do, and this is what you should do.

CORNISH: Governor Cuomo today. We're joined now by NPR's Joel Rose. And, Joel, to start, New York already has some of the nation's toughest gun laws. How is Governor Cuomo proposing to strengthen them?

JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: Well, as you said a moment ago, Audie, New York already has - or Governor Cuomo wants to pass the nation's toughest assault weapons ban. New York already has an assault weapons ban on paper, but Cuomo has compared that to Swiss cheese. The governor proposed a ban on all high-capacity magazines over 10 rounds. Some higher capacity rounds have been grandfathered in under current law.

And the governor also proposed closing loopholes on background checks. He proposed tougher penalties for using or selling illegal guns, which are used in the overwhelming number of crimes in New York. And the governor is also proposing to overhaul the state's mental health system in order to make it easier for mental health professionals to report people who they say may be a threat to public safety.

CORNISH: Now would that proposed assault weapons ban apply to the AR-15 assault rifle used in Newtown and other shootings?

ROSE: Governor Cuomo did not mention that gun by name in his speech, but the governor's office says that, in practice, yes, the governor's proposal would ban the AR-15 semi-automatic rifle. It would ban the sale of the weapon, but the governor's office says gun owners will still get to keep their existing rifles.

The office says it will not confiscate existing weapons. That is an idea that Governor Cuomo floated earlier and then backed away from. And the governor's office says the state will not buy back those guns from owners, but they will have to register their guns. And going forward, it would be unlawful to buy or sell semi-automatic guns of that kind in New York.

CORNISH: Now Governor Cuomo says he wants New York to be an example for the whole country, but what are the odds of his actually passing this measure at home?

ROSE: Well, he has not passed it yet. There were rumors that the governor would be announcing a deal with the legislature today on these new gun proposals. He did not announce that. The governor used the bully pulpit to make a very forceful case for what he called common-sense gun reforms, but negotiations with the legislature are ongoing.

Cuomo is a Democrat, and in order to get this through the state Senate, he's going to need at least some support from Republicans. And they're going to be hearing a lot from people in upstate New York, where hunting is a major pastime, and gun rights advocates traditionally have a lot of pull with lawmakers from both parties.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Joel Rose in New York. Joel, thank you.

ROSE: You're welcome.

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