Tappan Zee Bridge Opening

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks during a ribbon cutting ceremony for the Tappan Zee Bridge replacement, called the Gov. Mario M. Cuomo Bridge, on a span of the new bridge near Tarrytown, N.Y., Thursday, Aug. 24, 2017. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Seth Wenig

Gov. Andrew Cuomo wants to bolster state laws to prevent individuals convicted of domestic violence offenses from possessing guns. 

Cuomo's first 2018 State of the State proposal seeks to build on existing state laws that ban individuals convicted of felony domestic violence offenses from owning guns. Legislation supported by the governor would expand the ban to include misdemeanor domestic violence crimes. 

He also wants to close a loophole in existing law related to the types of guns individuals must surrender if a judge issues an order of protection against them or if they are prohibited from owning guns due to a felony conviction or mental health condition. The law, according to Cuomo, doesn't always apply to rifles and shotguns. He wants to advance his plan to ensure individuals surrender their long guns. 

The third provision in Cuomo's proposal is a mandate for judges to suspend firearm licenses and require individuals to surrender all guns if an order of protection has been issued in a domestic violence case. 

Two lawmakers, Assemblywoman Amy Paulin and state Sen. Diane Savino, have sponsored similar legislation in the past. But Cuomo now wants to make it a top priority in the 2018 session. 

His push follows two mass shootings within the last two months. A gunman killed 58 people and wounded 546 others in Las Vegas. One month after the Las Vegas attack, a man killed 26 people at a Texas church. 

The gunman in the Texas church shooting had a prior domestic violence conviction. While federal law prohibits individuals with felony or misdemeanor domestic violence convictions from owning guns, his crime wasn't reported by the Air Force to a federal database. 

"This year will be remembered as the year of reckoning, when both the tragedy of mass shootings and cultural and institutional harassment of women became impossible to ignore," Cuomo said. "Building on the Women's Equality Agenda, we are continuing our mission for progressive values and women's rights with this legislation to target the unquestionable relationship between domestic violence and gun violence." 

Other states have advanced similar proposals. Gun rights groups, namely the National Rifle Association, have opposed those efforts.

When Rhode Island passed legislation to ban individuals with domestic violence convictions from owning guns, the NRA called the measure a "gun confiscation bill masquerading as 'domestic violence' legislation." The group also insisted that it wouldn't protect victims of domestic violence. 

"Current federal and (Rhode Island) state laws are in place to make sure convicted violent abusers cannot possess firearms, and this bill is as dangerous as it is unnecessary," the NRA wrote in June. 

But gun control groups disagree. Cuomo's proposal was endorsed by Giffords, an organization founded by former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and her husband, Mark Kelly. 

Nico Bocour, state legislative director for Giffords, urged lawmakers to swiftly pass Cuomo's legislation. 

"Firearms are far too frequently used to injure, threaten or coerce victims of domestic violence," Bocour said. "The mere presence of a gun in a domestic violence situation makes it five times more likely the woman will die — that's why it's critical to have mechanisms in place to ensure that domestic abusers can no longer access them." 

New York-based gun control groups also praised Cuomo's State of the State proposal. 

Rebecca Fischer, executive director of New Yorkers Against Gun Violence, touted the state's existing gun laws. But she acknowledged the need to close this loophole to "save more lives."

"It is essential now that we do everything we can to ensure domestic abusers do not have guns in their hands," she said. 

Cuomo's proposal will likely receive strong support from the Assembly, which is controlled by Democrats. Even in the Republican-led Senate, there may be enough to support to pass the bill. 

When the SAFE Act was adopted in 2013, some Republican state senators, including current Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, voted for the bill. The Senate passed the measure by a 43-18 vote. 

The gun control legislation unveiled by Cuomo is one of three State of the State proposals he released last week. He also announced a plan to sue the federal government to force the continuation of Hudson River dredging and he wants $100 million for a third round of the Downtown Revitalization Initiative, one of his top economic development programs. 

Cuomo will deliver his 2018 State of the State address Jan. 3 in Albany. 

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