New York State's new gun-control law, signed June 13 by Gov. Hugh Carey, is "the toughest in the nation," according to its supporters here. The new law provides for a mandatory one-year jail term for anyone caught with an unlicensed, loaded gun. (There is a 60-day period before the law takes effect to allow people owning unlicensed guns to turn them over to authorities.)
Governor Carey and New York City Mayor Edward I. Koch, who have been at odds on a number of major issues recently, are widely credited with rounding up enough votes to pass the New York law. Momentum for passage was also spurred by the handgun killing three months ago of US Rep. Allard K. Lowenstein (D) of New York, as well as the shooting deaths of four policemen this year.
In New York City alone, there are an estimated 1 million guns that, unless registered, would be illegal to possess under the new law.
Meanwhile, in Washington, a federal gun-control bill remains stalled in congress and may not be voted on at all this year. One reason, say national gun-control supporters, is that US Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D) of Massachusetts, its chief sponsor, has been too busy running for president.
The senator, who introduced his legislation on Nov. 9, 1979, is chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, where the bill is stalled. He has not conducted any hearings on the bill.
But while gun-control proponents, such as Donald Fraher of Handgun Control Inc., feel that the Kennedy measure has fallen victim to election-year politics, they stress that some progress has been made toward passing legislation. They are encouraged that the Kennedy bill now has 47 cosponsors in the US House -- up from 16 on Nov. 7. On the Senate side, there are eight cosponsors.
Among other provisions, the legislation would provide a minimum manditory one-year jail sentence for the possession of an unregistered handgun. It also would require a "waiting period" between the time a gun is bought and the person buying it actually takes possession. This would allow time for officials to check police and other records.
No hearings have been scheduled on the legislation, which gun lobbyists vehemently oppose, because in the words of one Senate Judiciary Committee staffer: "There are too many other things going on." These, the staffer added, include major criminal code reform legislation, which may be voted on by the full House in the next 10 days, as well as the senator's own busy campaign schedule.
Senator Kennedy is not the only political figure to drop the ball on handgun legislation this year. President Carter had pledged in his 1976 campaign that he would back strong legislation, but gun-control advocates say his support has fallen victim to election-year pressures.