State Dems move to pass gun control measures as GOP balks

State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins on the Senate floor. Tuesday, May 31, 2022.
Photo courtesy of NYS Senate Media Services

State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-Westchester) told reporters in Albany Wednesday that a package of gun control bills poised to pass the state legislature Thursday are “meeting the moment” in the wake of two recent mass shootings and ongoing daily gun violence across the state.

The package of 10 bills, which Stewart-Cousins announced Tuesday along with Governor Kathy Hochul and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx), includes a requirement that people have to obtain a license in order to own semi-automatic rifles in the state going forward and must be at least 21-years-old in order to buy the weapons in the first place. 

It also includes measures to bolster the state’s existing Red Flag Law – which stops guns from being sold to those who are considered a danger to themselves and others, increase accountability for social media platforms, ban the sale of body army to those who aren’t in an “eligible profession” and require microstamping for new guns sold in the state.

The legislative package, introduced in both chambers two days before the state legislative session ends Thursday, is a direct response to two mass shootings last month: one where ten people were shot and killed at a buffalo supermarket and another, just days later, where a gunman killed 19 children and two teachers at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas.

“We were looking at where we are, how we could answer the times that we are living in and obviously these horrific mass shootings,” Stewart-Cousins said. “And so I think you’ll see the gun package kind of reflects what we learned from the Buffalo mass shooting and looking at social media. And looking at, raising the age or for semi-automatic rifles, and licensing, and so on and so forth. So, I do believe we’re meeting the moment.”

The suspected Buffalo shooter was an 18-year-old, who used an AR-15 style semi-automatic rifle.

While the state already has very strict gun laws, including an assault rifles ban, Stewart-Cousins said, these measures will help address blind spots that have led to recent mass shootings. For example, she said, they’re passing restrictions around body armor sales after the Buffalo shooter used the gear during his massacre – which allowed him to survive a gunshot from the store security guard, who he then killed.

“You have an 18 year old kid in a bulletproof vest or whatever and the guard fires at him and he’s very well protected,” Stewart-Cousins said. “So now, you don’t get to buy that unless you’re in law enforcement or some sort of emergency services.”

However, GOP lawmakers have come out in opposition to the changes, saying none of these proposed restrictions would’ve stopped either of the recent mass shootings. GOP state senators instead proposed their own package of bills Wednesday focussing on bolstering mental health services and imposing harsher penalties punishments, like bringing back the death penalty for perpetrators of mass shooters.

Stewart-Cousins said that while she believes this is a comprehensive package to curtail future mass shootings, there’s always more work to be done on this issue.

“We’re not a one and done conference,” she said. “So, I never get upset if it’s not all done today. Because as we evolve, as situations evolve, we’re always prepared to continue to do more. And we are very proud of our leadership in many of these spaces.”