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NY State Senate Majority reacts to the Supreme Court's ruling on gun laws

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Well, as we just heard, New York Governor Kathy Hochul is calling today's Supreme Court decision reprehensible. And the state Senate's majority leader, also a Democrat, agrees. When I spoke with the leader earlier today, I asked Andrea Stewart-Cousins about her initial response when she tweeted that the court, quote, "decided guns are more important than lives in this country."

ANDREA STEWART-COUSINS: You would think in the wake of the tragedies in Buffalo and Uvalde and Tulsa, that even if the Supreme Court was thinking about doing something that loosens our laws here in New York, they would take into account the very, very tragic things that have happened just within the past month. And clearly, they did not. And so that's why I said that obviously they've decided that guns are more important than saving lives in this country.

But, again, I go back to why it's so important that states and state legislatures - and I'm glad that on the federal government, they are inching towards doing, you know, something for the first time in decades around guns. But state legislatures really are very, very important and are really the front line in many ways to protect our citizens' best interests as well as, you know, just try and deal with some of these, you know, radical decisions that the Supreme Court seems hellbent on making.

KELLY: To your point that you wish the Supreme Court had taken into account recent events and you feel that they didn't, I'm curious your reaction to a concurring opinion. This was from Justice Alito, conservative Justice Alito, who did reference the mass shooting in Buffalo and said, look. New York's restrictions failed to stop it. His direct quote was, "how does the dissent account for the fact that one of the mass shootings near the top of its list took place in Buffalo? The New York law at issue in this case obviously did not stop that perpetrator." What's your response?

STEWART-COUSINS: Well, the response is not to make sure that everybody can walk around with guns that are concealed. I mean, when that tragedy occurred in Buffalo, what we did as a legislature was - I mean, obviously, there's no way that you can anticipate every single thing that might happen. But we did come back and actually do things that addressed what happened there. For example...

KELLY: But just to push you on his central point or what I understood to be his central point, New York had, as you note, already some of the strictest gun laws on the books in the country. They didn't stop what happened in Buffalo. So...

STEWART-COUSINS: No.

KELLY: Please.

STEWART-COUSINS: I mean, and I'm not disagreeing with no, it didn't stop it. But I am saying that what we did as a legislature is looked at that particular thing and said, you know, how would we make it harder for some, you know, irrational 18-year-old, you know, white supremacist to buy a semiautomatic rifle? And how about the fact that we did have - I mean, you know, to that point, I mean, there was actually a trained police officer there. He didn't have body armor, and this kid did. So, I mean, you know, we could say the other point is true, too; that just because - look at what happened in Uvalde. Apparently, there were tons of trained police officers that stood outside for an hour.

So, I mean, we can always say this didn't happen and that didn't happen and it should have happened. But I think that clearly what needs to happen is that we have to have a sensible approach to guns in this country. You know, we're not - you don't need weapons of war.

KELLY: Yeah. And I know we're just hours out from this decision. It's very early days for you. But I saw that Governor Hochul is considering, among other things, new laws that might look at whether New York could restrict carrying handguns in sensitive locations, also looking at some changes...

STEWART-COUSINS: Yeah.

KELLY: ...To the permitting process for just...

STEWART-COUSINS: Yeah.

KELLY: ...Basic qualifications, training requirements for gun owners. Is that the type thing that you're looking at?

STEWART-COUSINS: Yes. I mean, obviously, I think there is still - I mean, I know among the majority of the legislature, there is a desire to have a process that really does not make it - you know, again, does not send the signal that, you know, we want you packing and it's perfectly OK. So, you know, obviously, the decision that the court has sent down we'll, you know, work within the parameters that are there. But I do believe that there are things, just as - again, when we had the tragedies of the past couple of months, we came in and tried to address those tragedies. This court ruling sends us back to the table on our process. And we will go back and come up with a process that fits within the scope of the law, but again, still sends a message that it matters what you do with lethal weapons.

KELLY: Last thing - New York's big state. There's New York City and Albany. There's very rural parts of New York.

STEWART-COUSINS: Sure.

KELLY: And I wonder how you think about gun laws, gun safety. Does what makes sense to you for one part of New York perhaps not apply to others? - kind of like America's a big country. Do different laws make sense in different places?

STEWART-COUSINS: Absolutely. There are a lot of things that we didn't do because we knew that it would impact, say, communities where they really do more hunting or, you know, there is a different approach to it. So understand that every time we look at these things, we look at it from a state-wide perspective and try to do the most reasonable and sensible things that not only meet the moment but respects the various regional differences.

KELLY: Andrea Stewart-Cousins is a democrat and New York's state Senate majority leader. Thank you.

STEWART-COUSINS: Thank you so much. It's been nice talking to you.

KELLY: And elsewhere on the program, I speak with the executive director of the group Gun Owners of California. He is celebrating the decision today from the Supreme Court. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.