New York’s new gun law
– allows a state bureaucrat to take a gun away from a law-abiding citizen who has done nothing wrong
– makes a criminal out of a legal gun owner who fails to meet requirements that didn’t exist when the gun was purchased
– requires a gun owner to get background checks on his best friend or brother-in-law before selling him his gun
– defines “assault weapons” as clearly as an advanced calculus formula
The state constitution requires bills to “age” three days on lawmakers’ desks to provide for sufficient review. That stipulation was circumvented by the Governor’s “message of necessity” that allowed for the bill’s passage just hours after being introduced. A careful reading of the text indicates many people may not be aware of just how far the law goes.
The key mental health provision raises civil liberty concerns. Mental health professionals are required to turn in their own patients who have guns if they think the patient is “likely to engage in conduct” that may be harmful. A state agency could then act to revoke the gun license even though the owner had done nothing wrong. This action is predicated on the false stereotype that the mentally ill are more dangerous than the rest of us. In fact, substance abusers, whether sane or not, are much more likely to be violent than the mentally ill in general. And divorce, unemployment and a history of physical abuse are better predictors of violent behavior than mental illness.
In all but eight counties in NY, gun licenses have never expired. The law changes that even for those who have the license already. These legal gun owners are now subject to re-certification. A failure to comply results in criminal charges.
Massive and confusing red tape now awaits legal gun owners and dealers who face the reality the same gun may fall into both legal and illegal categories depending on its modifications. Every state legislator should be required to define an assault weapon in 50 words or less. And, by the way, violent gang members have never worried much about red tape.
I believe in universal background checks, keeping guns away from kids and felons and recognizing some weapons should be banned because they are too effective at killing many people quickly. But NY’s gun law is a political response to a much more complex problem. The Newtown tragedy highlighted the need for more parental responsibility, where a mother allowed her disturbed son access to six guns. Haven’t heard a word about that. Americans also must get better at protecting themselves because being defenseless is not a strategy. And we must strengthen our core values that shape our behavior in the first place.
Blaming guns misses the target. And chipping away at the 2nd Amendment is even worse. Let’s work together to develop a thoughtful, comprehensive strategy that makes our lives, and our liberties, more secure.
The writer, a former elected official, spent three years as a senior staff member in the NY State Assembly.