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Gun control advocates in NY say they will push on

new york state capitol at night
Matt Ryan
New York NOW
The New York state Capitol building at night.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has ordered that flags be flown at half-staff across New York in a memorial for the victims of the Las Vegas incident that left at least 58 dead and hundreds injured, calling it “yet another senseless and horrific mass shooting.”

Anti-gun violence advocates are renewing calls for a new law that they said might prevent some of these events in the future.

New York has one of the strictest laws in the nation on the sale and possession of firearms. The law, known as the SAFE Act, expanded the state’s ban on purchasing new assault weapons, established more comprehensive background checks for gun and ammunition purchases and toughened laws against illegal gun possession.

But Paul McQuillen with New Yorkers Against Gun Violence said the 2013 law is not as effective as it could be because it’s easy to buy some of the banned guns and ammunition from other states, like Pennsylvania, Ohio and many Southern states.

“We’re not protected because of that easy access,” McQuillen said. “Because there’s no national gun policy. That’s what we need to have enacted.”

McQuillen said as horrific as the Las Vegas deaths are, the total is still less than the average number of 90 Americans killed each day due to gun violence including suicides and domestic violence.

New Yorkers Against Gun Violence is backing a bill that McQuillen said could help prevent some gun deaths in the future. It would create what’s known as extreme risk protection orders in New York state. That would allow family members and friends to go to the police if they believe that their loved one might be a threat to themselves or others. The person’s access to firearms could then be temporarily restricted.

“Who would know better than a family member that somebody is a danger to themselves or others?” he said.

The measure was approved earlier this year in the Democratic-led state Assembly, but it stalled in committee in the state Senate. Even though Democrats had a numerical majority of 32 during the past session, the Senate is ruled by a coalition of Republicans and independent Democrats.

Senate sponsor Brad Hoylman, a Democrat from Manhattan, said the measure — which is law in four other states including California and Connecticut — is modeled after anti-domestic violence laws.

“Where you’re able to petition a court to protect a spouse from the abuse of his or her partner,” Hoylman said.

Hoylman said no one’s gun would be taken away from them without due process in the courts, and any restriction to firearms would not be permanent.

He said it’s hard to measure whether the law has saved any lives. He said there are examples where people have worried that a relative might do harm to themselves and others, but the police were unable to do anything to prevent it.

Hoylman said in the 2014 shooting at the University of California at Santa Barbara, where six people were killed, relatives of the gunman reported their suspicions to police, but law enforcement authorities were unable to act.

“The police briefly interviewed him,” Hoylman said, “but had no legal authority at the time to intervene.”

California passed its extreme risk protection order law later that year.

Over the weekend, the chair of the state’s Democratic Party, Byron Brown, who is also mayor of Buffalo, issued a letter. In it, he urged that the independent and regular Democrats in the Senate reunite and end a disagreement that he said has “fatally split” Democrats in the party.

Hoylman said if Democrats were in power in the Senate, he’s certain his bill would go to the floor for a vote.

A spokesman for Cuomo said the governor would have to “review” the specific bill, but said Cuomo “would support any measure that will further protect New Yorkers.”

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for the New York Public News Network, composed of a dozen newsrooms across the state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.