The US state of New York has become the first to pass tougher gun control laws since the mass shooting at an elementary school last month that left 26 dead. The new law focuses on mental health screening.
New York's governor, Andrew Cuomo, signed the bill into law on Tuesday. The legislation had swept quickly through both houses of the state legislature, winning favor 43-18 in the Republican-controlled Senate on Monday, and then 104-43 in the Democrat-controlled Assembly on Tuesday.
The governor praised the lawmakers for their "bold statement, coming together in a bipartisan, collaborative manner to meet the challenges that face our state and our nation, as we have seen far too many senseless acts of gun violence."
In mid-December, a massacre that left 20 children, between the ages of five and 10, and six adults dead at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut unleashed a massive public debate on gun control issues. New York became the first state on Tuesday to pass a measure in response to the shooting spree.
The new law - the New York Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act or NY SAFE - attempts to tackle several problems that have played a prominent role in other massing shootings in recent years, including mental health, ammunition capacity and background checks.
Mental health professionals must now report patients to the authorities if they are believed likely to cause harm to themselves or others. The police would then have the authority to confiscate a dangerous patient's firearm.
"People who are mentally ill should not have access to guns, that's common sense," Governor Cuomo said. "That's probably the hallmark of this bill, coming up with a system that allows for mental-health screens."
New York has also limited magazine ammunition capacity to seven rounds.
"Seven bullets in a gun, why? Because the high-capacity magazines that give you the capacity to kill a large number of human beings in a very short period of time is nonsensical to a civil society," Cuomo said.
The shooter at Sandy Hook, 20-year-old Adam Lanza, was able to change out clips several times during the rampage, according to police, which allowed him to kill 26 people in a short period of time. Many of the victims were shot multiple times.
Other provisions of NY SAFE were expanding background checks for gun sales of any kind, including private deals.
The National Rifle Association (NRA), the US' most powerful gun lobby, vehemently criticized the new legislation soon after it was signed on Tuesday, saying they were "outraged at the draconian gun control bill that was rushed through the process."
"These gun control schemes have failed in the past and will have no impact on public safety and crime," the NRA said. "Sadly, the New York Legislature gave no consideration to that reality."
The Sandy Hook massacre has captivated public debate in the United States like no other mass shooting in recent years.
While gun control advocates have been calling for swift action to enact tighter restrictions on gun owners, some proponents of gun rights - protected under the Second Amendment of the US Constitution - have been promoting ideas, such as placing armed police officers in schools and training teachers to use firearms.
US President Barack Obama is scheduled to unveil a sweeping set of gun-control proposals on Wednesday.
kms/jm (Reuters, AFP, AP)
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