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After mass shootings, New York tightens its gun restrictions

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

It has been nearly three weeks since the mass shooting at a supermarket in Buffalo, N.Y., 10 days since the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas. And while President Biden last night called for a national ban on assault weapons, New York state lawmakers passed a sweeping gun control package. That decision came a day after four victims were shot dead on a hospital campus in Tulsa and on the same night as two women were gunned down outside a church in Ames, Iowa. WNYC's Albany reporter Jon Campbell is with us to talk about New York's response to what feels like relentless gunfire. Jon, welcome.

JON CAMPBELL, BYLINE: Hello. Good morning.

MARTIN: What exactly did New York legislators pass last night?

CAMPBELL: So lawmakers passed a series of 10 gun control bills. It marked the most significant package of gun control legislation in New York since the state bolstered its assault weapons ban after Sandy Hook in 2013. And a lot of these measures were in direct response to the Buffalo and Texas shootings. They're dealing with things like making it more intensive to buy a semi-automatic rifle and making it illegal to purchase or sell body armor in most cases. Another of these bills would eventually require new handguns to be equipped with microstamping technology. And that's a technology which imprints a unique code on bullets as they're fired from a gun. These bills, they're all slated to quickly become law. Governor Kathy Hochul is a Democrat. And she's pledged to sign each one of them.

MARTIN: Explain the significance of this because New York is already known for pretty strict gun control. How do these new bills change what's already on the books?

CAMPBELL: Yeah, you're right. A lot of these bills actually build on past action by the legislature. New York already has very strict restrictions on semi-automatic weapons, some of the strictest in the country. But now a person will have to obtain a license to purchase a semi-automatic rifle. And that means they're going to have to be at least 21 years old. Before, you could legally purchase one at 18 years old. There's also a measure to bolster the state's red flag law, which - that's something that allows a judge to order the seizure of somebody's firearms if they're a threat to themselves or others. Now, more health care workers, they'll be able to seek an order under that law. And police officers will be required to seek an order if they have probable cause that somebody is a threat. There's also another measure that's in response to the Buffalo shooting. State police, they had ordered a mental health evaluation for the alleged shooter after he made a prior threat at his high school. But nobody had ever saw it in order to prevent him from buying a gun under that red flag law. That's why they bolstered it.

MARTIN: So there is this challenge before the U.S. Supreme Court right now to one of New York's oldest gun restrictions, a law that makes it difficult to get a permit to carry a concealed weapon. How did that play into the consideration of these bills?

CAMPBELL: So it did and it didn't. Governor Hochul and lawmakers, they were very aware of that pending decision. It could come down as soon as this month. But they were hesitant to really take any action specifically related to the state's concealed carry laws because there was this concern that they could, perhaps, look like they were conceding defeat. And they didn't want to give Supreme Court justices any fodder for their pending decision. That said, the governor has already suggested that she may bring the legislature back to Albany for a special session if the court does strike down that state law to deal with the fallout in some way or form.

MARTIN: So let's just take a second and talk about the politics of this because the governor and lawmakers who pass these bills are up for election this year. Democrats are already expected to have a tough road ahead in these midterms. How will the package be seen politically?

CAMPBELL: So it'll play out differently in different parts of the state. Governor Hochul, she was once a Congress person. She represented a very conservative area in western New York. At that point, she had an A rating from the NRA. Now she has to appeal to a statewide electorate. It's largely based in New York City. It's heavily Democratic. And voters there are in favor of gun control. So generally, this is seen as a net positive for the governor from a political standpoint.

MARTIN: Jon Campbell from Albany.

(SOUNDBITE OF MAYBESHEWILL'S "CRITICAL DISTANCE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.