ALBANY - New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo called for closing loopholes on a state ban on assault weapons and ammunition magazines that carry more than 10 bullets as part of a wide-ranging gun control package he proposed in his State of the State speech Wednesday.
"Guns have both a noble and a tragic tradition in America and in New York state," Cuomo said. "They are a sign of our nation's fiercely defended independence and self-reliance ... (but) in the wrong hands, guns are also weapons of untold destruction and heartbreak."
The governor, who owns a shotgun and has hunted, said, "Gun violence has been on a rampage ... we must stop the madness, my friends ... The tragic events of just the last few weeks in Newtown, Conn., and West Webster, N.Y., have indelibly taught us guns can cut down small children, firefighters and policemen in a moment."
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo delivers his third State of the State address at the Empire State Plaza Convention Center on Wednesday in Albany.
(AP photo — Mike Groll)
The state already has among the most restrictive gun control laws in the nation, and the governor noted that New York passed the nation's first handgun permit law, in 1911.
"Let's lead the way once again in saving lives," Cuomo said.
A deal is expected soon that could make New York one of the first states to pass gun control laws following the Dec. 14 shooting, in which 20 first-graders and six educators were gunned down with a powerful weapon at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. The shooter also killed his mother and himself.
New York's effort was hastened further by the Christmas Eve killings of two firefighters in western New York by a man who set his neighborhood on fire, lay in wait with a high-powered rifle for responders, shot them and killed himself. Webster residents related to the firefighters were honored guests at the State of State address.
"Some weapons are so dangerous and some ammunition devices so lethal that we simply cannot afford to continue selling them in our state," Cuomo said.
Cuomo would also require follow-ups for owners of handgun licenses to make sure they are still qualified to possess a gun based on criminal and other records. He would increase sentences for gun crimes including for using guns on school property and for gang activities.
Legislators were working Wednesday behind closed doors to reach agreement on the governor's demand for tighter controls on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines.
Democratic Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Republican Sen. Martin Golden agreed the closed-door talks have brought all sides to within 95 percent of a deal, which could be announced and acted on this week.
"New York leads the nation; it's time New York led the nation in this," Silver said. His priorities are bans on assault rifles and high-capacity magazines of ammunition.
In other priorities, Cuomo proposes raising the minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $8.75 an hour, an idea he also pitched a year ago; allowing three casinos for upstate New York and none in New York City; and making possession of up to 15 ounces of marijuana seen in "open view" punishable as a violation.
"The current minimum wage is unlivable," Cuomo said, citing the costs of gas, child care and food. "My friends, it does not add up. ... It is the fair thing to do; it is long overdue."
Cuomo's education package would increase "learning time" by at least 25 percent, while proposing higher pay for better teachers and recruiting top performers to teaching. The state would pay the cost of longer days or longer academic years, with local school districts deciding whether to opt in. That innovative idea could finally overcome the hurdle of expanding school years beyond 180 days and typically six-hour days, which would require more pay for teachers and other school employees.
Brian D. Backstrom, president of the Foundation for Education Reform & Accountability, was critical of the governor's proposal, saying it "does little more than nibble around the edge of real reform."
In addition, the governor would eliminate the Long Island Power Authority as part of measures to better protect New York City and Long Island and would "harden" the energy network that failed for millions of New Yorkers for as many as 21 days with the Oct. 29 superstorm. The governor said the Long Island Power Authority failed during the storm.
Other proposals include a statewide volunteer network of skilled New Yorkers, such as electricians and carpenters to respond to superstorms and other disasters, Cuomo said at a conference center in Albany.
The governor and legislative leaders are also in negotiations on restrictions on the New York City Police Department's stop-and-frisk procedures that critics say impinge on civil rights. Another Cuomo priority is legalizing casinos off Indian land.
Cuomo also sought to drum up support for a November referendum that could legalize casinos beyond a half dozen Indian casinos and more than two dozen electronic gambling games at race tracks.
Gamblers "now go to New Jersey; they go to Connecticut. Why not bring them to upstate New York?" Cuomo asked.
Associated Press writer Michael Virtanen in Albany contributed to this report.
Some of the highlights of Gov. Andrew Cuomo's 2013 State of the State address, delivered Wednesday in Albany:
- Guns: A tighter ban on assault weapons and elimination of high-capacity ammunition clips. He also proposes that when a mental health professional determines a person is likely to cause serious harm to someone, the person's firearm license may be revoked and law enforcement could take the person's weapons. The governor calls for a uniform state licensing plan, tough penalties for illegal gun activities and regular review of a gun owner to determine capability to own a firearm.
- Casinos: Three Las Vegas-style casinos built on non-Indian land in upstate New York if the casinos are legalized this year.
- Storm preparation: The need to fortify New York's power and telecommunication systems after Superstorm Sandy. Cuomo has named commissions to look at infrastructure issues and is seeking federal funding to upgrade systems. Other proposals among many include: Enhance efforts in workforce training by expanding energy career training, update state building code, update Department of Health's review of applications for new hospitals and nursing homes, protect New York Harbor, flood-proof subways and bus depots, build redundancies into fuel system.
- Minimum wage: Raising the minimum wage to $8.75 an hour from the current $7.25.
- Energy: Creating a "Green Bank" to spur private investment in clean energy projects, extending the NY-Sun Solar Jobs program and encouraging local renewable power sources.
- Education: Besides longer school days and years, more pre-kindergarten and funding based on performance, paying high-performing "master teachers" $15,000 extra a year for four years to teach other teachers.
- Gender equality: A Women's Equality Act to address things like reproductive rights, pay equity, sexual harassment, human trafficking and tougher order-of-protection laws in addition to other forms of discrimination against women.
- Campaign finance reform: 48-hour disclosure of contributions over $500, public financing of state elections, lower contribution limits.