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New York -
New York has taken a big step toward becoming the first US state to enact tough new restrictions on assault weapons in the wake of the elementary school massacre in Connecticut exactly a month ago.
Lawmakers in the state Senate voted by a 43-18 margin on Monday in favour of what were billed as the toughest such measures in the United States, the upper house said on Twitter just before midnight.
The lower house, the State Assembly, was expected to vote on Tuesday.
Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo, who rushed through the legislation, welcomed the state senate's “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.”
Earlier, he told lawmakers: “The people of this state now are crying out for help on the issue of gun violence, and I think this does that.”
Put to a vote on the state legislature's first full day of the new session, the legislation just came hours after President Barack Obama spoke in favour of a federal ban on military-style rifles and curbs on high-capacity magazines.
The NY Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act, or NY SAFE, closes several loopholes in an existing state ban on assault weapons.
It reduces the maximum magazine size from 10 rounds to seven and extends the requirement for background checks to all sales, including private deals.
A notable aspect of the new rules is emphasis on preventing the mentally ill from getting access to weapons. An existing law allowing judges to order mentally ill people to receive treatment was strengthened.
The measures were linked directly to the national horror at the December 14 massacre of 20 elementary school students and six staff at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.
A disturbed local man who had no connection to the school burst in and began firing with an assault-style Bushmaster rifle, before using a pistol to commit suicide.
“I think the message out there is so clear after Newtown,” State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver was quoted saying by the Daily News. “It is an emergency,” he said.
Advocates of gun control say that rifles designed for firing at a high rate and at multiple targets make it easier for such massacres to take place.
However, gun ownership is wildly popular in the United States and many people view any legal restrictions as infringing on their constitutionally protected right to bear arms.
But in the run-up to Monday's vote, Cuomo ridiculed the argument that assault rifles - which resemble those carried by the military, except that they cannot be fired on full automatic - are needed by ordinary people, such as hunters.
“No one hunts with an assault rifle,” Cuomo said. “No one needs 10 bullets to kill a deer. End the madness.”