Impasse between Cuomo and state Senate on gun measures

Jan 8, 2013

Governor Andrew Cuomo and Republicans in the Senate remain at an impasse over gun control legislation -- just days before the governor's State of the State address. Meanwhile, the state comptroller says he’s thinking of divesting the state’s pension fund from investments in gun manufacturers.

Cuomo has been negotiating with the legislature to try to come up with a package of gun control measures to be put into law this month. But in recent days, Cuomo and Senate Republicans have been trading press releases that reveal the depth of the impasse.

Senate GOP leader Dean Skelos issued a plan that would strengthen penalties for illegal gun possession, and mandatory minimum sentences for those who commit crimes using guns obtained unlawfully. Skelos also wants to strengthen the law that permits involuntary outpatient treatment for the mentally ill in some cases, known as Kendra’s Law.

Cuomo is seeking further restrictions on assault weapons, but the Senate plan does not include those provisions. The governor says the Senate’s plan does not go far enough.

“It misses the mark, pardon the pun, to put out a plan that doesn’t ban assault weapons,” Cuomo said.  

A spokeswoman for the Senate Republicans shifted the blame to Assembly Democrats, saying they are refusing to even consider tougher penalties for those who commit crimes using illegal guns -- and are blocking any strengthening of Kendra’s Law.

In a statement, Skelos spokeswoman Kelly Cummings said: “The refusal of the Assembly Democrats to even consider putting in place tougher penalties, including mandatory minimum sentences for individuals who commit crimes with guns, illegally possess or sell guns, or to strengthen Kendra's Law, is unconscionable.  At this time, the Assembly Democrats are jeopardizing an agreement on comprehensive gun safety legislation.”

A spokesman for Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver calls the charges “an outright lie,” and says Assembly Democrats have been working with the governor for the past three weeks on bills that both ban assault weapons and stiffen penalties for illegal guns.

In a statement, Silver spokesman Michael Whyland said: “It’s an outright lie. Assembly Democrats have been working with the Governor for the past three weeks on a comprehensive bill that would ban assault weapons and increase penalties for illegal guns. This is simply an attempt by Senate Republicans to shift the blame for their refusal to ban deadly assault weapons. The fact is they are beholden to the gun lobby, and that is a shame when you consider all the innocent victims of gun violence including most recently at Newtown and Webster.”

Cuomo says he’s likely to include his gun proposals in his State of the State message on Wednesday. The governor has not introduced a specific plan, but has talked about further limiting high capacity ammunition clips and banning new types of assault rifles.  

Some Democrats have advocated for the micro-stamping of bullets to better trace guns used by criminals. Cuomo says that’s not likely to be in the package.

The governor says he’ll go the people to build consensus for his proposals if he cannot get agreement in the Senate soon.

“My guess is gun control is going to be that type of issue,” Cuomo said. “Because it is a very divisive topic.”

Democrats in the Senate support a further crackdown on assault weapons, but their power to pass legislation in that house is hindered by a splinter within the party. Five Senate Democrats, in the breakaway Independent  Democratic Conference, are in the process of forming a governing coalition with the Republican Senators. The rest of the Democrats will have minority party status and likely will not have the ability to automatically bring bills to the floor.

Meanwhile, state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli says he’s reviewing the state’s pension fund investments in gun manufacturing companies.

“In the wake of the Newtown shootings, we are assessing our holdings in gun manufacturers,” DiNapoli said.

The  comptroller estimates that the state pension fund has around $150 million in “limited” holdings of gun manufacturer funds.  He stopped short, though, of calling for a divestment of those funds.

“Like any reasonable thinking person we have concerns about this issue,” Di Napoli said.  

DiNapoli and his staff are beginning a more extensive review of the pension fund’s gun holdings.