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N.Y. OKs gun law; protesters demand Wal-Mart drop assault weapons

Published: Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2013 9:45 a.m. CDT

(MCT) — NEW YORK — The state of New York on Tuesday approved legislation to curb the sale of assault weapons and ammunition, as victims of gun violence joined other protesters at a Wal-Mart parking lot in Connecticut to demand the retailer stop selling guns similar to the type used by a man who killed 20 children in Newtown, Conn.

The Democratic-controlled Assembly in Albany, N.Y., approved the bill after the Republican-majority Senate passed it about 11 p.m. Monday, making the state the first to take legislative action against gun violence since the Newtown massacre a month ago. Among other measures, the bill, which was signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, will crack down on ammunition sales and broaden the definition of assault weapons in New York to make it harder to legally possess them.

The bill also will require therapists to report patients diagnosed as mentally ill who threaten to use guns illegally, and it will outlaw online sales of assault weapons and the sale of high-capacity ammunition magazines. In addition, it will require the revocation or suspension of gun licenses from individuals who are subjects of orders of protection.

It passed the Assembly 104-43.

“Passing today’s legislation was the least my colleagues and I could do to honor the memory of those lost in 2012,” said Daniel O’Donnell, a Democratic assemblyman who voted for the so-called SAFE Act and who said New York and Connecticut were “still reeling” from the shootings in Newtown and a Christmas Eve shooting in the New York town of Webster that killed two firefighters.

“Even one injury or death from gun-related violence is too many, and last year our country felt the shock and grief these events bring all too frequently,” he said.

In Danbury, Conn., about five miles from the Newtown school where 26 people were killed Dec. 14, the Wal-Mart protest drew together people directly affected by gun violence. They included a woman whose 6-year-old daughter was killed in the January 2011 shooting that targeted former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson, Ariz., and another woman who was shot but survived that attack.

“Millions of people we’ve heard from have said the American people have had enough,” said Roxanna Green, whose 9-year-old daughter, Christina-Taylor, was the youngest of the six who died when a gunman opened fire in a parking lot where Giffords was speaking. Giffords was shot in the head and critically wounded but survived.

Green described herself as a Wal-Mart customer but said the retailer bears a responsibility to shoppers to remove from shelves the sorts of weapons now in the cross hairs of activists looking for ways to prevent more mass shootings.

“I’m very hopeful. Most of us here today are Wal-Mart shoppers. I think they’ll listen to their customers, if they want to help save lives and make their customers happy,” Green said shortly after the store’s manager was handed a box full of petitions.

Anthony Mercurio, spokesman for the group SumofUs.org, which helped launch the petition drive, said the box contained more than 291,000 petitions. He placed it on the ground in front of the store manager, John Ruggieri, who stood quietly as those at the front of the cluster of protesters appealed to Wal-Mart to take assault weapons off its shelves.

“You have to join us in this effort,” said Lori Haas, whose daughter Emily was shot and wounded in the 2007 massacre at Virginia Tech, where 32 students and instructors were slain. “We would like the assault weapons ... these are military-style people-killers ... off the shelves today.”

“Ma’am, I’m with everybody in the community,” said Ruggieri, who said he had no authority to comment on Wal-Mart policy as a whole.

“We’ll take this thing and move it up to the right people,” he added before heading inside the store with the box.

The Danbury store does not stock weapons, but hundreds of other Wal-Marts in the U.S. do. The retailer’s inventory includes the same type of weapons used by 20-year-old Adam Lanza when he burst into Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown and opened fire on first-graders. In addition to the 20 children slain, six school employees died that day. Lanza also shot his mother to death and committed suicide by shooting himself in the head.

Law enforcement officials say Lanza used a Bushmaster semiautomatic rifle to kill the children. He shot himself with a Glock 10-millimeter handgun, and also carried a Sig Sauer pistol.

Like other retailers, Wal-Mart stopped selling many weapons from 1994 to 2004, when a federal assault weapons ban was in effect. When the ban was allowed to expire, weapons returned to many store shelves. Protesters accused Wal-Mart of reneging on a vow to keep assault weapons off its shelves after the ban expired.

“We have been purposeful about striking the right balance between serving our customers that are hunters and sportsmen and ensuring that we sell firearms in the most responsible manner possible,” said Wal-Mart spokeswoman Ashley Hardie in response to the protesters’ demands. She said the company, for instance, does not sell handguns in the continental U.S., does not sell high-capacity magazines as an accessory, does not sell firearms online, and sells only sporting rifles at less than one-third of Wal-Mart stores, “primarily where there are large concentrations of hunters and sportsmen.”

The retailer also has cameras to videotape sales of firearms in its stores and “exceeds the current legal requirements” on background checks of arms purchasers, among other measures, said Hardie.

“This is an issue we take seriously and have taken a number of steps above and beyond what the law requires to help ensure we are being responsible,” she said.

Wal-Mart’s vice president of corporate communications, David Tovar, has said Wal-Mart leaders were among those who had spoken with Vice President Joe Biden as he sought input for recommendations given to President Barack Obama this week on combating gun violence.

Obama will announce “concrete proposals” on gun policy based on Biden’s recommendations Wednesday.

In a suburb east of New York City, meanwhile, a high school in the city of Elmont was closed for several hours Tuesday after someone called 911 to report a possible gun on campus. A search turned up the suspicious item, which was a toy weapon.

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