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Secrecy Business as usual in Albany

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The power of the new bipartisan governing majority in the state Senate was demonstrated Monday night in the swift, dead-of-night passage of a new gun control law that might never have made it to the floor when Republicans controlled the chamber. Whatever changes the new majority of Republicans and five breakaway Democrats are expected to bring, though, transparency isn’t one of them in its first official action.

It all happened quickly and intentionally so. Shortly before 9 p.m. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo released details of the legislation aimed at further limiting sales of assault weapons that had been worked out in closed-door sessions with legislative leaders. Less than two-and-a-half hours later, the Senate passed the bill while the public slept. The Assembly adjourned but was expected to pass the bill Tuesday.

The governor had to waive a constitutionally required three-day waiting period before the Legislature can act on a bill with a message of necessity. He did so to give the bill the best chance of passage and to prevent a run on sales of the type of assault weapons that will be banned. It was all designed to suppress opposition that might be heard during a waiting period. Getting the law passed took precedence over public debate on one of the nation’s most restrictive gun control laws.

As written, NY SAFE Act redefines an assault weapon to ban sales as they are configured. Before the new law, assault weapons had to have two “military rifle” features such as a pistol grip, bayonet attachment or flash suppressor. The new law reduces that to one feature and includes the popular pistol grip. Current owners of such weapons are grandfathered in, but the weapons will have to be registered with the state.

Sales of assault weapons over the Internet will be banned. Even private sales will require background checks. Instant background checks will be required for ammunition purchases. Large purchases will be reported to police.

Acting under the cloak of darkness, the Senate closed the door a little on the state’s “sunshine laws.” Names and addresses of registered gun owners will no longer be available to the public under the Freedom of Information law.

Whatever the merits of the legislation, the Legislature wasn’t going to be swayed by public opinion.

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