New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo called for tougher state bans on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines of ammunition as part of a progressive agenda in a sometimes fiery State of the State speech Wednesday.
"No one hunts with an assault rifle. No one needs 10 bullets to kill a deer," Cuomo said. "End the madness now!
"The tragic events of just the last few weeks in Newtown, Conn., and West Webster, N.Y., have indelibly taught us guns can cut down small children, firefighters and policemen in a moment," Cuomo said.
The state already has among the most restrictive gun control laws in the nation, and the governor noted that New York passed the nation's first handgun permit law, in 1911.
A deal is expected soon that could make New York one of the first states to pass gun control laws following the Dec. 14 shooting, in which 20 first-graders and six educators were gunned down with a powerful weapon at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. The shooter also killed his mother and himself.
New York's effort was hastened further by the Christmas Eve killings of two firefighters in western New York by a man who set his neighborhood on fire, lay in wait with a high-powered rifle for responders, shot them and killed himself. Webster residents related to the firefighters were honored guests at the State of State address.
"Let's lead the way once again in saving lives," Cuomo said in an often rousing speech that some observers said better positioned the Democrat for a 2016 run for president.
Cuomo would also require follow-ups for owners of handgun licenses to make sure they are still qualified to possess a gun based on criminal and other records. He would increase sentences for gun crimes including for using guns on school property and for gang activities.
Legislators were working Wednesday behind closed doors to reach agreement on the governor's demand for tighter controls on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines.
Democratic Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Republican Sen. Martin Golden agreed the closed-door talks have brought all sides to within 95 percent of a deal, which could be announced and acted on this week.
"New York leads the nation, it's time New York lead the nation in this," Silver said. His priorities are bans on assault rifles and high-capacity magazines of ammunition.
"Our goal is to try to get something done by the end of this week," said Senate Republican leader Dean Skelos.
Cuomo started the last half of his first term striking a far more progressive tone than the fiscally conservative positions he used to fashion himself as a "new Democrat." But he also achieved many of his fiscal goals, including a cap on property tax growth and curbed spending.
Cuomo's agenda Wednesday included decriminalizing open possession of 15 grams of marijuana to a violation, fighting for women's workplace and abortion rights and raising the minimum wage. He sounded more like his father, former Gov. Mario Cuomo, than like former President Ronald Reagan, as he did two years ago, said Lawrence Levy, political commentator and executive dean of the National Center for Suburban Studies at Hofstra University.
"It was a long list of initiatives that have been part of a progressive, liberal agenda and which could be very expensive in the long run," Levy said.
"It's a clear road map to a progressive agenda, but the road goes through the Republican Senate," said Michael Kink of the Strong Economy for All Coalition of labor and progressive groups.
"I think it's a pivot because of the politics of 2016," said political commentator Michael Benjamin, a former Bronx Democratic assemblyman, referring to the next presidential elections. "There's no way to see how he'd pay for it."
Cuomo will have to present his budget Jan. 22.
One of his bolder ideas would increase "learning time" by at least 25 percent, while proposing higher pay for better teachers and recruiting top performers to teaching. The state would pay the cost of longer days or longer academic years, with local school districts deciding whether to opt in. That innovative idea could finally overcome the hurdle of expanding school years beyond 180 days and typically six-hour days, which would require more pay for teachers and other school employees.
Brian D. Backstrom, president of the Foundation for Education Reform & Accountability, was critical of the governor's proposal, saying it "does little more than nibble around the edge of real reform."
In other priorities, Cuomo proposed raising the minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $8.75 an hour. He called the current wage "unliveable."
His response to Superstorm Sandy would include eliminating the Long Island Power Authority, which he said failed in crisis. It's part of measures to better protect New York City and Long Island and would "harden" the energy network that failed for millions of New Yorkers for as many as 21 days with the Oct. 29 superstorm.
Other proposals include a statewide volunteer network of skilled New Yorkers, such as electricians and carpenters to respond to superstorms and other disasters, Cuomo said at a conference center in Albany.
Cuomo also sought to drum up support for a November referendum that could legalize casinos beyond a half-dozen Indian casinos and more than two dozen electronic gambling games at race tracks.