Leadership on Guns

With commendable leadership and urgency, Gov. Cuomo and legislators from both parties have seized the initiative on gun control, drafting legislation designed to crack down on ownership of assault weapons and keep firearms out of the hands of the mentally ill.

If only Washington could act so decisively.

Mr. Cuomo proposed the measures in his State of the State speech in early January, and the State Senate passed the bills by an overwhelming vote, 43-18, on the first day of the new legislative session. A vote in the Assembly, where the bill enjoyed similarly warm support, was scheduled for Jan. 15. With the Senate’s action, New York became the first state to tackle meaningful gun legislation since the slaughter of the innocents in Newtown, Conn., a month ago.

The bill is the legislative articulation of Mr. Cuomo’s impassioned argument against handheld weapons of mass destruction in his annual address to the Legislature on Jan. 9. The governor noted that once upon a time, the Empire State was a national leader in gun control thanks to Sullivan’s Law, written by Tammany Hall’s “Big Tim” Sullivan. “No man knows more about [gun violence] than I do,” said Sullivan when he introduced his bill in 1911. “You must take my word … that I know what I am doing.”

Sullivan, who lived in the tough parts of town—the Five Points and the Bowery—certainly did know what he was doing. His bill, which made it a felony to possess a weapon illegally, remains on the books and was a model for later gun-control legislation.

Mr. Cuomo and his colleagues, to their everlasting credit, also know what they’re doing. They’re trying to rid the state of weapons designed not for hunting deer but for killing large numbers of human beings. The new gun bill expands the state’s definition of assault weapons, making them subject to the state’s ban on such firearms, and prohibits magazines holding more than seven rounds. Those seeking to purchase ammunition would be subject to background checks.

The bill would also empower the state to take more aggressive action to keep guns out of the reach of the mentally ill. Police officers would be empowered to confiscate guns from the mentally ill based on information provided by mental-health professionals. The measure raises some confidentiality issues, but as Newtown and other mass killings have shown, the status quo is unacceptable. Mentally ill people simply cannot have easy access to guns. We have seen what happens when they do.

Gov. Cuomo’s leadership on gun control has not been replicated on the west side of the Hudson River, where the usually outspoken Gov. Christie has been less than straightforward in his comments since Newtown. Unlike his colleague in Albany, Mr. Christie has tried to move the conversation away from guns with vacuous talk about violence in video games. That’s an evasion, not a solution, and it’s disappointing to hear from a man who has earned national prominence for his candor and in-your-face style.

Albany’s actions have shown the rest of the nation that bipartisan cooperation is possible, and that there are indeed politicians out there who understand that the status quo is not acceptable.