Imagine you’re an alternate juror watching as the jury convicts the wrong man for a series of vicious murders. The evidence doesn’t support the prosecutor’s case, but in answer to your protests, the jury members ask, “How could we see such brutal crimes and not act?”
Of course you would not want to let a killer go free, but you assert that it is wrong to take away someone’s freedom for no reason other than misplaced satisfaction of having done something. The jury turns its back and stands by its conviction.
This is how I feel as I watch the rushed SAFE Act legislation that has been passed in New York state, and I hear proposals for more gun legislation, ostensibly in response to the child massacre in Connecticut.
In the face of overwhelming evidence that new gun laws will not affect violent crime rates, Gov. Cuomo has led the way toward restricting freedoms in order to be a leader and do something. Thousands came to the capital to peaceably protest on Feb. 26, asserting that this is the wrong law. More than half of the counties in New York have passed resolutions opposing his new law. The governor turns his back and stands by his law.
To be the leader of the progressive left, the governor had to hurry: their agenda to disarm this country must be pushed quickly while emotional reactions to the massacre are still running high. Even Connecticut has been more methodical in its approach. The timing reeks of party politics: President Obama waited until the day after New York’s laws were rushed through to make his push for new national laws. I suspect that we will hear about New York being first on this issue when Andrew Cuomo starts his campaign to be the Democratic nomination for the presidency.
The details of New York’s new law certainly reflect its rushed passage. This law now classifies “assault rifles” based not on their ability to deliver rapid firepower, but on rather illogical features like the presence of a bayonet lug or a grenade launcher. Possibly the most ridiculous detail of any regulation that I have ever heard is the provision that 10-round magazines can be kept for some firearms, but can only legally be loaded with seven rounds at one time. I don’t want to sound flippant on a very serious subject, but if a perpetrator wants to shoot a lot of people, will he now hesitate to put more than seven bullets in the magazine? Can anyone claim that this feature of the law will impact crime rates?
Those who fail to learn from history are destined to repeat it. Gov. Cuomo has mentioned New York’s leadership in passing the gun-restricting Sullivan laws many years ago. I like the comparison: Please, reader, study the motivations for the Sullivan laws and the effects that they had. Chicago’s restrictive handgun laws coincide with astronomical homicide rates.
Some people claim that local or state initiatives are impaired by guns crossing from other areas of the country; that a national law is needed. But there are national laws against cocaine possession, and it is still being dealt in every state. Further, Britain’s massive national gun and ammunition confiscation in 1968 had no effect on the country’s gradually increasing violent crime rates. A two-year Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study concluded, in 2003, that “The Task Force found insufficient evidence to determine the effectiveness of any of the firearms laws or combinations of laws reviewed on violent outcomes.”
Enforce current laws
Improved enforcement of existing laws, on the other hand, can be quite effective in saving lives. This has been proven in New York City. Since the early 1990s the homicide rate in New York has declined by more than three-quarters due primarily to law enforcement practices, not new laws. For each child killed at Sandy Hook, 80 lives have been saved in New York City each year. Now the governor wants to curtail “stop and frisk,” which has removed thousands of illegal handguns (the real killers) from city streets.
The SAFE Act is a misnomer: It is not about safety. If safety was the primary concern, lawmakers would concentrate on the biggest threats to our safety, and to the safety of our children.
Alcohol kills nearly three times as many people in this country as firearms do — 26,000 die from their own consumption, and many thousands more as the victims of accidents and crimes committed by intoxicated persons. I ask anyone in child protective services to comment: What causes more damage to children in our community, firearms or alcohol use by the adults in their home? College deans: What kills more of your students, alcohol or firearms? Yet my children knew within weeks of starting college in Albany and Ithaca where underage drinkers could obtain alcohol. Just reasonable enforcement of existing drinking age laws could save far more lives than new gun laws.
At the very least, we should have a national law that says that no government agency shall be allowed to promote the sale of alcoholic beverages. This will prevent the “aggressive marketing” of New York-produced alcoholic beverages along the New York State Thruway, as Gov. Cuomo has proposed. The main causes of childhood death are accidents (of which about 1 percent involve firearms), cancer, and the delayed affects of congenital defects that occur during pregnancies. Promotion of alcoholic beverages will contribute to all of these.
It may be easier to support a quick-fix law, like voting for a fast conviction rather than engaging in lengthy debate. But I urge all New Yorkers to look harder at the evidence, and carefully evaluate all proposed solutions.
Norman Perazzo lives in Glenville. The Gazette encourages readers to submit material on local issues for the Sunday Opinion section.