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Gov. Cuomo proposes nation's 'toughest' ban on assault weapons

Mike Groll / AP

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo delivers his third State of the State address at the Empire State Plaza Convention Center on Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2013, in Albany, N.Y. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo proposed “the toughest assault weapons ban in the nation” in his State of the State address Wednesday afternoon – a response to the mass shootings in Aurora, Colo., and Newtown, Conn., and the shooting deaths of firefighters in upstate New York.

“We must stop the madness,” Cuomo said.

“This is not about taking away peoples’ guns,” said Cuomo, adding that he’s gone hunting and owns a shotgun. “It is about ending the unnecessary risk of high-capacity assault rifles.”

Cuomo previously described New York’s assault weapons regulations as having “more holes than Swiss cheese.”

The governor proposed a seven-point plan that includes the elimination of all high-capacity magazines, regardless of the date of manufacture. New York law currently prohibits magazines that hold more than ten rounds, but excludes magazines made prior to 1994.

Cuomo also proposed background checks for all gun sales between private parties, as well as stricter penalties for the illegal purchase of weapons and measures to ensure that guns stay out of the hands of mentally ill individuals.

Even before the governor spoke, the topic stirred debate in New York, which is one of seven states that currently restrict the purchase and possession of assault weapons. The others are California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Maryland according to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, which supports gun control measures. 

“New York’s assault weapons ban is, as he noted, riddled with loopholes, and it’s important to approach that with a fresh eye,” said Benjamin Van Houten, a managing attorney at the Law Center. “Currently California has the strongest state assault weapons ban, but I’m really encouraged by what the governor was saying today.” 

Speculation is swirling around Vice President Biden's comments Wednesday that the president will take executive action to stem gun violence. NBC's Kristen Welker reports.

After Cuomo told a radio interviewer in December that “confiscation could be an option,” gun rights activists posted a petition to the White House’s web site calling any legislation restricting the sale and ownership of semi-automatic firearms “a clear violation of our rights as a free people.” The petition had 7,973 signatures as of late Wednesday morning.

Cuomo's aides have reportedly said the confiscation idea won't work, and he hasn't mentioned it since the radio interview.

Cuomo’s speech comes as lawmakers in other states and at the federal level direct more attention to the issue of gun control.

In Washington, Vice President Biden held the first in a series of gatherings at the White House aimed at trying to create a consensus on what to do about gun violence. 

“The president is going to act,” Biden said while meeting with gun control proponents at the White House. “There are executive orders, executive action that can be taken.”

In Colorado, which is still reeling from the movie theater shooting that left 12 dead, Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, has urged legislators to take up the issue of gun control. The Associated Press reported that gun rights advocates planned a rally outside the state Capitol Wednesday, a day ahead of Hickenlooper’s own State of the State address.

An FBI review of all 2011 homicides for which data was available found that 67.8 percent of them involved firearms – 72.5 percent of which were handguns.

On Monday, more than one hundred New York state legislators called for new laws that would cut down on gun violence. Their proposed package calls for universal background checks on all gun sales, a more stringent ban on assault weapons, and a ban on the sale and possession of magazines that hold more than ten rounds of ammunition.

Senate Republican Leader Dean Skelos announced his own gun proposal on Saturday, suggesting mandatory sentences for possession of an illegal weapon and increased penalties for carrying a firearm in certain areas, like on school grounds.

“No new package of gun safety laws can be truly effective without including provisions that go after illegal guns and punish the people who use them against others,” Skelos said in a press release.

A spokesman for the governor knocked down Skelos’ proposal because it did not call for an outright ban on assault weapons.

“Any gun policy that doesn’t ban assault weapons ignores the reality of gun violence and insults the common sense of New Yorkers,” spokesman Josh Vlasto said.

Cuomo's efforts may be aided by the fact he is riding a wave of popularity. A Siena College poll conducted in November found that Cuomo is viewed favorably by 72 percent of New Yorkers.