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Senate, Assembly go in opposite directions on post-Parkland gun measures

ALBANY – Both houses of the State Legislature acted this week with new get-tough measures in the wake of last month’s Parkland school shooting that left 17 people dead.

But Democrats and Republicans in the Senate and Assembly are going in far different directions to address potential ways to lessen the chance of such mass shootings at schools from occurring in New York.

On Monday, the Senate pushed through a package of bills intended to improve security at schools around the state, including more money for armed security presence at public schools and extra funding for security devices and for schools to hire a professional to coordinate mental health services for students.

The Assembly on Tuesday followed with its own response, but focused on new gun control efforts, including additional restrictions on gun possession by people with “extreme” orders of protection and bans on the possession and sale of bump stocks used to turn some weapons into automatic-style guns.

While there is support in both houses for some of the measures that have been approved as one-house bills, the differences on an overall approach are stark and spell trouble for some of the stated priorities for Democrats and Republicans.

“I think this is the proper way to go,’’ Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, a Bronx Democrat, said of the gun-control measures favored in the Assembly.

But Republicans who control the Senate are focused on school safety ideas. “Schools must be safe havens, where students can learn and teachers can teach. In New York, we must act swiftly and decisively to implement additional measures in schools throughout our state to give students, parents, and teachers the resources and peace of mind that they deserve,’’ said Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, a Long Island Republican.

The package of bills senators passed Monday include:

  • Funding proposed by Sen. Patrick Gallivan, an Elma Republican, to pay for districts to have “school resource officers,’’ which could come from the ranks of current and retired law enforcement, stationed and armed on school grounds. Another bill would set aside extra money for schools to upgrade security technology.
  • State money for schools to hire a mental health services coordinator to work with students and staff to try to identify people with potential mental health issues before they might pose a danger at school. Another bill would permit someone to be charged with an act of terrorism for discharging a weapon within 1,000 feet of a school.
  • Expansion of active shooter drills at schools and stronger penalties for violent crimes or threats of violence on school grounds.

Gun control advocates say the Senate effort falls short. “I know the Senate with great fanfare passed some measures yesterday … There are better ways to do it,’’ said Sen. Joseph Lentol, a Brooklyn Democrat and longtime codes committee chairman.

Rebecca Fisher, executive director of New Yorkers Against Gun Violence, said the state has among the nation’s strongest gun laws, but that there are various gaps that need to be closed. “Today we applaud the Assembly for stepping up …We urge the New York State Senate to follow the Assembly’s lead,’’ Fisher said.

Tom King, president of the New York State Rifle and Pistol Association, said his group favors measures to better protect students in schools “rather than doing these crazy, witch hunt-style laws that are not protecting anybody.’’

“I give the New York State Senate Republicans a lot of credit for stepping up and naming the problem rather than trying to blame it on an inanimate object,’’ King said of the bills passed in the Senate. His group is the state affiliate of the National Rifle Association.

“The people of the state of New York deserve to have their kids protected as much as any one of the politicians that are sitting in the Legislative Office Building or the state Capitol. Why are their backsides more important than our kids in our schools?’’ King said of guards and State Police stationed at the legislative complex in Albany.

Whether anything from either house becomes law is far from certain. Thorny issues sometimes get folded into the annual state budget process as a way to horse-trade using unrelated fiscal issues. But the gun and school safety matters appear, if Heastie was correct Tuesday, not to be on the table for talks this month as Gov. Andrew Cuomo and lawmakers try to complete a 2018 spending plan by the March 31 deadline.

Heastie said the Assembly could support some of the concepts pushed in the Senate school safety package. But he said adding more guns – such as funding for more armed school resource officers – is a non-starter in the Assembly. He said permitting armed guards in schools sends “the wrong message’’ to students and “gives a false sense of security.’’

For his part, Cuomo has been on a campaign pressing for federal action, saying gun violence cannot be controlled by states alone. He and several Northeast governors have signed a pact pledging cooperation on gun control issues.

In the Assembly, lawmakers passed gun control measures that include:

  • Creating a “extreme risk protection order” to be signed by a judge in cases where people are deemed to be a risk to themselves or others. In such cases, the person would be restricted from possessing firearms.
  • Expanding to 10 the number of days a person has to wait to obtain a gun without getting a final answer on a background check. Under current law, buyers can obtain a gun they have purchased in three days if a federal background check is not completed.
  • Bans on possession, transportation or manufacturing in New York State of bump stocks, which are devices can effectively turn some weapons into automatic guns capable of quickly firing large amounts of ammunition.

Senate Democrats, who this year are seeking to wrest control of the 63-member from the GOP, hit Senate Republicans on the floor Monday and via the media on Tuesday. "New York needs a Senate majority that will advance gun safety measures and keep New York schools and communities safe,'' said Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, a Westchester Democrat.

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