(CNN) – Ban assault weapons. It's a call that's been trumpeted on the airwaves, in protests and in some TV ads.
But now it's coming from a high-profile governor, signaling what could be a major move in the renewed push for tighter gun laws after the Connecticut elementary school shooting last month–a massacre that capped a year marked by other high-profile shootings.
Speaking to a crowd of elected officials, Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York said Wednesday the state must enact "the toughest assault weapons ban in the nation, period."
"Gun violence has been on a rampage as we know first hand and we know painfully. We must stop the madness, my friends," he said in his annual State of the State address. "It has been enough."
The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence ranks New York as fourth in its list of states with the strongest gun laws, and the Empire State already has a ban on some types of assault weapons. But the Democratic governor, whose job approval ratings top 70%, argued more needs to be done.
His other proposals included closing a loophole that allows gun purchasers to sidestep background checks during a private transaction. Cuomo also wants to ban high capacity magazines, devices with 10 or more rounds of ammunition that can be attached to guns.
He urged the audience, which included state lawmakers and members of law enforcement, to enact "tougher penalties" for illegal gun use and pushed for stricter regulation on the sale of ammunition.
Cuomo stressed a need to "keep guns from people who are mentally ill."
"We need a gun policy in this state that is reasonable, that is balanced, that is measured," he said.
Cuomo, who's considered a potential 2016 presidential candidate, took heat from gun rights groups when he said in a December radio interview that "confiscation could be an option" in terms of reducing the number of assault weapons in New York. He has not made similar remarks since.
Opponents, however, were quick to pounce, arguing that Cuomo's radio comment represents the future of Second Amendment rights if gun owners don't fight to keep laws as they stand. Other critics argue that violence tends to increase in places that have tighter gun restrictions. The National Rifle Association, for example, says the solution to school shootings entails equipping every school in the country with an armed guard.
A petition to the White House asks "that Gov. Cuomo's attempts to violate our rights be stopped immediately." With more than 8,000 signatures, the White House requires at least 25,000 before it issues a response.
Cuomo, however, said "this is not (about) taking away peoples' guns."
"I own a gun. I own a Remington shotgun," he continued. "That's not what this is about. It's about ending the unnecessary risk of high capacity assault rifles."
Cuomo's comments come during a week of big-name efforts involving gun regulations. Vice President Joe Biden is holding meetings–including a sit-down with the NRA–at the White House to find recommendations for the president. And former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot in the head two years ago this week, and her husband Mark Kelly launched a website Tuesday aimed at finding solutions.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, an outspoken advocate for gun control, said in a statement after Cuomo's remarks that he "was particularly struck by [Cuomo's] passionate leadership on gun violence.
"New York State has led the nation with strong, common-sense gun laws, and the governor's new proposals will build on that tradition," Bloomberg wrote. "They will help law enforcement keep guns out of the hands of criminals and other dangerous people and save lives. We strongly support his proposals to close loopholes and strengthen existing laws, and we look forward to working with him and the state legislature to adopt them."
In his address, Cuomo cited the state's Sullivan Act, the first-in-the-nation gun control law enacted in 1911, which required a permit for the possession of a handgun.
"New York led the way then," he said. "'Let's pass safe and fair legislation and lead the way once again in saving lives."