NEW YORK (Reuters) - New York Governor Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday signed into law one of the nation’s toughest gun-control measures and the first to be enacted since the mass shooting last month at an elementary school in neighboring Connecticut.
The bill passed the Democratic-led Assembly on Tuesday afternoon, a day after sweeping through the Republican-majority Senate.
The bill expands the state’s ban on assault weapons, puts limits on ammunition capacity and has new measures to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill.
Cuomo pressed for passage of the bill after a gunman killed 20 students and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, just over one month ago.
The measure also mandates a life sentence without parole for anyone who murders a first responder. Just two weeks after the massacre in Connecticut, an arsonist gunman ambushed and killed two firefighters responding to a fire he had set near Rochester.
At a signing ceremony in Albany, Cuomo said provisions of the bill, such as limiting gun clips to seven rounds and mental health screening for weapons purchases, were essential to making New Yorkers safer.
“People who are mentally ill should not have access to guns, that’s common sense,” Cuomo said. “That’s probably the hallmark of this bill, coming up with a system that allows for mental-health screens.”
“Seven bullets in a gun, why? Because the high-capacity magazines that give you the capacity to kill a large number of human beings in a very short period of time is nonsensical to a civil society,” Cuomo said.
Police have said the gunman in Newtown, 20-year-old Adam Lanza, carried numerous high-capacity magazines and that he changed gun clips several times, allowing him to unleash at least 150 rounds in his 10-minute assault on the elementary school. Some victims were shot as many as 11 times.
Gun rights advocates lashed out at Cuomo and New York’s law, decrying the speed at which the legislation moved through New York’s statehouse. The state’s lawmakers have been back at work for less than a week.
“The National Rifle Association and our New York members are outraged at the draconian gun control bill that was rushed through the process late Monday evening,” the NRA, the nation’s most powerful gun rights lobby group, said in a statement.
“These gun control schemes have failed in the past and will have no impact on public safety and crime,” the NRA said. “Sadly, the New York Legislature gave no consideration to that reality.”
Also on Tuesday in Danbury, Connecticut, not far from Newtown, gun control advocates gathered for a rally outside a Walmart store to demand Wal-Mart Stores Inc, the nation’s largest gun retailer, stop selling assault weapons.
Among those at the rally were Lori Haas, whose daughter was injured in the 2007 shooting at Virginia Tech, and Pam Simon, who was wounded in the 2011 shooting in Tucson, Arizona, that also critically injured former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.
The Newtown killings plunged the rural New England town of 27,000 into grief along with much of the nation and prompted President Barack Obama to form a task force headed by Vice President Joe Biden to find ways to curb gun violence. Obama is scheduled to unveil the recommendations on Wednesday.
In a White House news conference on Monday, Obama signaled he will ask Congress to ban military-style assault weapons, require stronger background checks for gun buyers and put tighter controls on high-capacity magazine clips.
The assault rifle used in the Newtown attack is based on a military rifle and can be equipped with magazines that hold up to 30 rounds of ammunition.
Additional reporting by David Bailey; Editing by Lisa Shumaker, Grant McCool, Andrew Hay, David Gregorio and Dan Grebler