A Bush Master AR15 assault rifle, similar to the weapon used in the Aurora, Colorado mass shooting. (Photo by Joshua Lott/Getty Images)
By Jon Campbell, Gannett
ALBANY, N.Y. - New York lawmakers were expecting a late-night vote Monday as they near a deal on a package of gun-control measures.
After spending more than three hours in conference behind closed doors Monday afternoon, Senate Republicans emerged and signaled a deal was imminent.
"The conference is reviewing a number of options, and it looks like there will be a vote sometime today," said Sen. Michael Nozzolio, a Republican from Fayette, N.Y., in Seneca County.
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan, said a draft of a gun-control package is currently being finalized and sent to the printer.
When asked whether there will be a vote Monday night, Silver said: "I believe there will be."
"I think you take a look at what has happened over the years and in Newtown, I think the faster we do this, the better off we are," Silver said.
The package of bills is expected to include a bolstered assault-weapons ban that would remove certain exceptions that were included in the state's 1994 ban. The size of magazines would also be limited to a maximum of seven rounds -- down from the current 10 -- while penalties for gun-related crimes would be increased and background checks on firearm purchasers would be expanded to private sales.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and lawmakers have been in talks over the state's gun laws since the Dec. 14 massacre in Newtown, Conn. A vote on Monday would make New York the first state to pass tighter firearm restrictions since the shooting.
But some Republicans in both the Senate and Assembly warned against moving too quickly.
Sen. Thomas O'Mara, R-Big Flats in Chemung County, cautioned against a vote simply so New York and Cuomo can claim the mantle of being the first in the nation to adopt tougher gun laws.
"It's certainly very frustrating, but the governor has made this his priority issue and I think the No. 1 concern of his is to get it done first, before anybody else does anything," O'Mara said. "When we're dealing with issues of Second Amendment concern or any constitutional concern, we should be taking a greater and more thorough look at it with the opportunity for discussion amongst all interested parties."
Senate Independent Democratic Leader Jeff Klein, D-Bronx, said he's "very confident" the Senate will vote on a package of gun laws Monday. Klein's five-member Independent Democratic Conference shares control of the Senate with Republicans.
"I think that when all is said and done, we're going to pass a comprehensive gun bill today," Klein told reporters. "And I think it's important, and I think this is an issue that shows we can work together - Democrats and Republicans."
Cuomo has indicated he would waive a mandatory three-day aging period for new bills if the Legislature puts the gun measures to a vote, Silver said.
About three dozen union members who work at a Remington Arms manufacturing plant in Herkimer County traveled to the Capitol on Monday, presenting lawmakers with a letter expressing concern that a full assault-weapons ban could put them out of work.
The Remington plant manufactures several types of rifles, including the Bushmaster .223-caliber model used in Newtown and Webster, N.Y., on Christmas Eve.
"We are asking you to not hinder the growth of our employer, the opportunity of growth in the Mohawk Valley with large and small businesses, and most importantly the jobs that support the survival of our membership and their families," the union, United Mine Workers of America Local 717, wrote.
Senate Republicans, meanwhile, have pushed for tougher penalties for firearm-related crimes as well as a mandatory life sentence without parole for anyone who kills a first responder, a response to the shooting death of two firefighters in Webster.
In a radio interview, Sen. Thomas Libous, R-Binghamton, the Senate's second-ranking Republican, attempted to distance his conference from the calls for tougher gun restrictions while emphasizing its push for tougher penalties.
"We're trying to get significant reform in the bill," Libous said on WGDJ-AM in Albany. "A lot of us understand that the Second Amendment is being violated with the assault ban and it is very difficult for us. So we're trying to do what we can to actually try and go after the root of the problem."
In his State of the State address last Wednesday, Cuomo called for the "toughest assault weapons ban in the nation" as well as limiting magazines to a capacity of seven bullets, down from the current 10.
"No one hunts with an assault rifle," Cuomo said. "No one needs 10 bullets to kill a deer. End the madness."