Since finding a silver bullet (you will pardon the expression) that effectively addresses gun violence has proven elusive at best, elements of laws like the SAFE Act recently passed by the Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Cuomo are always and should be open to debate.
However, let’s put aside the outrageous canard that the SAFE Act was too hastily conceived and enacted. To hold that ridiculous view, one has to conveniently forget that the topic, of necessity, has been thoroughly and publicly debated at length almost continuously, given the tragic frequency with which the instrument in question has been utilized to commit mayhem in this ostensibly civil society.
On the other hand, there is good reason to be concerned over the future effectiveness of the SAFE Act. In part that is because New York is but one of 50 states, many of which are irresponsibly deficient in addressing the issue of safety proven real by appallingly repetitious experience. Short of frisking everyone who enters New York from elsewhere, the impossible challenge of fully and effectively enforcing New York law in this regard is obvious.
In the face of this Balkanized, often contradictory hodgepodge of gun regulations across the nation, the demand of SAFE Act opponents that the laws already on the books be effectively enforced before any further reform is attempted also is absurd. The necessity for a new and nationally more consistent paradigm is clear. Unfortunately, that “too many laws” argument is cynically deployed — usually successfully — to frustrate any such effort. Ironically, greater national consistency would likely result in far fewer gun laws remaining on the books.
This is not an anti-gun or an anti-Second Amendment argument. To the contrary, this is an appeal to the use of intellect and reason in prudently applying traditional maxims to modern society. Like the rest of the Bill of Rights, the Second Amendment is part of the permanent fabric of our nation, part of the DNA, if you will. Even with the SAFE Act in place, the bottom line is that any law-abiding New York state resident that wants guns can have them.
However, none of the rights either enumerated or implied by our Constitution has ever been absolute in nature. Each individual right weighs against a coordinate responsibility to other individuals and to the community at large.
Neither has there ever been a hierarchy to the Bill of Rights. Each such right is of equal fundamental importance to the maintenance of this free society.
Gun regulation opponents, in contrast, argue that the Second Amendment is the Constitution’s most important. These Second Amendment supremacists are championed by a National Rifle Association that loudly projects a fear-mongering “sky is falling” hyperbole whenever a conversation about guns and public safety is attempted.
They argue that the Second Amendment is the essential linchpin of our liberty — that without it, and it alone, all other rights would eventually cease to exist. They also claim an ultimate and incongruous constitutional right to overthrow the republic based on a specious “defense against tyranny” principle. This is nothing less than an argument for sedition, which if accepted — or even unconsciously acquiesced to — could truly sew the seeds of destruction for our principles, our nation and the Constitution itself. Proponents of these hackneyed ideas seek to provide justification to self-styled and self-serving “patriots” resisting “government tyranny.” Alarmingly, these fallacious contentions are being advanced with increasing frequency and far-too-infrequent challenge in the public square. They also serve to underlie why efforts like the SAFE Act are so loudly and fervently decried by their proponents. To acquiesce in any gun regulatory effort would require them to relinquish these false constitutional interpretations.
The truth is that potential for the federal government to produce tyranny was indeed recognized by the Founders, who fully addressed it in the nature of the system of government crafted in the Constitution with its limited powers, split branches and intricate checks and balances.
The laughable idea that citizens with personal arsenals can serve as the ultimate guarantor of constitutional freedoms may sound romantic to some, but it is patently ridiculous. Furthermore, to the extent the desire for someone to arm himself also is motivated by paranoid antisocial, apocalyptic or dystopian beliefs would appear to be of far more immediate and concrete concern when it comes to threats to the republic.
Furthermore, this false belief in the supremacy of the Second Amendment — whether consciously held or unconsciously unchallenged — can have a subtle, corrosive effect on other constitutional rights.
As a case in point, the NRA rails against the more thorough background checks required by the SAFE Act as assaults on the individual rights of “lawful gun owners,” yet is perfectly OK with creation of an intrusive mental illness registry, even though that condition has no conclusive correlation to violence. The remainder of the Bill of Rights becomes quietly subservient to this erroneous interpretation of the Second Amendment. The unfortunate inclusion of just such a registry in the SAFE Act would appear to be an even further indication of this subtle threat.
That guns are in no way a contributing factor to the carnage — intentional and accidental — that besets our culture is an argument that defies reason and logic. Thirty-thousand gun deaths a year, 18,000 by suicide, loudly say otherwise, and the SAFE Act, imperfect as it may be, is a thoughtful response. But the unchallenged fallacies of the Second Amendment supremacists potentially carry even greater danger. We need resolute and thoughtful responses there, too.
John Figliozzi lives in Halfmoon and is a regular contributor to the Sunday Opinion section.