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For Hollywood’s sake, N.Y. may tweak its assault weapons ban

The nation’s toughest gun control law hasn’t even taken effect, but New York lawmakers are considering tweaking the restrictions, especially if the gun owners happen to be from Hollywood.

Permitting filmmakers to use genuine assault weapons -- banned under the state law passed in January -- is one of the measures under consideration by legislators in the state capital, Albany. Another possible change that lawmakers say might be necessary: exempting law enforcement officials from the assault weapons ban.

At a news conference this week, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo conceded that some “technical corrections” may be necessary to permit the entertainment industry to use genuine assault weapons -- without real ammunition -- while shooting movies and TV series in the state.

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“We haven’t talked about the details of it, but the basic concept of should you be able to use these types of guns in movies? The answer is yes,” Cuomo said. “We spend a lot of money in the state bringing movie production here, post-production here. So obviously we would want to facilitate that.”

The Democratic Assembly speaker, Sheldon Silver, agreed. “We have a big industry producing movies in New York, and there should be an exemption for actors in organized movies, productions, using it on the set,” he said.

But those changes wouldn’t be nearly enough to satisfy protesters who swarmed Albany on Thursday, saying New York’s gun control law was pushed through too quickly in the wake of the Newtown, Conn., school massacre to be considered fairly by all sides.

State police say about 5,000 people rolled in on hundreds of buses that traveled from the rural reaches of New York, where hunting is a way of life for many and where some towns’ economies depend on gun manufacturers and gun users.

“It’s great to see this many people. It’s nice to see people finally waking up to the fact that this state government wants to abridge our rights,” said Chuck Godfrey, the president of the Erie County Federation of Sportsmen, echoing protesters who say the New York law will lead to repeal of the 2nd Amendment of the Constitution.

The president of the National Rifle Assn., David Keene, told a cheering crowd that the legislation was pushed through to further the political careers of Cuomo and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and would not save lives.

“New York has proven once again that it can top Washington in terms of the highhandedness of some of the people that hold its highest offices,” Keene said.

At least two lawsuits have been filed challenging the Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act, or SAFE Act, which passed Jan. 15 and will take effect in phases. It was proposed after the Dec. 14 massacre of 20 first-graders and six adults at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, and Cuomo said he hoped that it would spur national lawmakers to follow suit.

Among other things, the legislation changes the state’s definition of an “assault weapon” to include semiautomatic guns with one feature commonly associated with military weapons. Previously, the term applied to semiautomatics with two features. It also limits magazines to seven rounds of ammunition, down from 10; enhances monitoring of ammunition sales; expands necessary background checks for gun purchases; and requires gun licenses to be recertified every five years.

Both Cuomo and Bloomberg backed the bill. Bloomberg, who has been active in Washington in efforts to push Congress to implement tougher gun laws, said Friday he was “hopeful” that lawmakers would pass federal laws to require universal background checks on gun buyers and to limit high-capacity magazines.

“I don’t know if I’d use the word ‘optimistic,’” Bloomberg said during his weekly radio interview. “Let’s say hopeful.”

He said that although New York state’s law isn’t perfect, “it makes it better” by throwing up obstacles to getting guns that could be used in crimes or suicides.

But in Albany, protesters insisted that the restrictions hurt gun manufacturers and gun sellers and punish law-abiding citizens whose guns and ammunition magazines now fall into the “banned” category.

“It’s time to repeal this law,” said Republican Brian Kolb, the minority leader in the Democratic-controlled Assembly. The Assembly passed the SAFE Act, 104-43, on Jan. 15, a day after the state Senate, led by a Republican-dominated coalition, passed it, 43-18. Cuomo signed it into law within hours of the Assembly vote.

As the rally was under way Friday, a Republican lawmaker introduced a bill to repeal most of the SAFE Act, including its ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. Sen. Kathy Marchione’s bill also seeks to repeal a provision requiring mental health professionals to report potentially dangerous patients who have gun licenses to law enforcement officials.

Her bill is not expected to go anywhere, but it’s a sign of the efforts underway by pro-gun legislators and lobbyists to try to block implementation of the SAFE Act. Some of the new law’s provisions take effect March 15. Others don’t kick in until next January.

Democrats, and the Republicans who support the SAFE Act, say they are discussing some revisions but not the type that would satisfy the NRA and its supporters.

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