Gov. Andrew Cuomo and a powerful faction of Senate Democrats met Friday to discuss gun control legislation that one leader said would be the strongest assault-weapons ban in the country.
Sen. Jeffrey Klein, D-Bronx, who heads the now-five-member Independent Democratic Conference, said after an hour-and-a-half-long meeting with Cuomo in the governor’s Capitol office that the group supports the governor’s legislation “wholeheartedly,” and that he hopes it will be passed as soon as possible — preferably this month.
“I think we’re on the same page,” Klein said. “That we have to do everything possible to ban assault weapons in New York, (as well as) high-capacity magazines, make sure that people with serious mental health issues don’t possess guns. And I think that’s what we have to do in the state of New York — pass one of the toughest gun laws in the nation.”
Klein brokered a power-sharing deal with Republican Leader Dean Skelos, R-Nassau County, in which the two will alternate the Senate presidency every two weeks. The coalition government will control the chamber, shifting power away from Democrats who might have had the majority otherwise.
Klein said Friday he has not yet discussed the proposed legislation with Skelos. It is unclear what type of gun-control legislation Senate Republicans might support.
Klein said under the new power structure, he and Skelos would have to agree on legislation that comes to the floor, regardless of who is acting as temporary Senate president.
He wouldn’t say whether he thought Senate Republicans would support Cuomo’s legislation.
“We can’t deal with ‘what ifs,'” he said.
The 2013 session officially begins Jan. 9 with Cuomo’s State of the State speech in Albany, through which he will lay out his agenda for the year. He has been in talks with lawmakers about gun-control legislation in recent weeks after recent shootings in Newtown, Conn., and Webster have thrust the issue into the national spotlight.
“We just spent an awful lot of time going through the proposed bill step-by-step, and I think it’s something that needs to be done,” Klein said. “Hopefully we can do it as quickly as possible.
“We need to do it in January,” he continued. “As quickly as possible.”
He said the bill closes loopholes in the state’s current assault-weapons ban, which “would make it the strongest assault-weapons ban in the country,” Klein said.
He said the bill would also require background checks of whether prospective gun buyers have a history of mental illness.
Skelos released a statement Friday saying that any gun-control legislation should include a strengthening of Kendra’s Law, which allows courts to order mentally ill people with histories of violence into outpatient treatment. An amendment introduced last session would have expanded the law to cover more people.
“The Senate is committed to acting on legislation as soon as possible to strengthen Kendra’s Law and make it permanent,” Skelos said in a statement. “We are seeing more and more horrific stories about what can happen when someone with a severe mental illness, who poses a danger to themselves and others, doesn’t receive the proper treatment. Not only should this issue be a part of our discussions related to gun safety, but it must be part of any three-way agreement on laws to increase public safety and prevent the kind of senseless violence and death we’ve seen in the past month.”