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Another Voice: Western New York and upstate are no hotbeds of anti-SAFE Act frenzy

By Paul McQuillen and eight others

A recent article in the New York Times, “Cuomo’s Gun Law Plays Well Downstate but Alienates Upstate,” misrepresents the Western New York and upstate areas as a whole. The article portrays “upstate” as a united front of anti-SAFE Act hysteria and repeal frenzy. That misstates the facts.

In reality, upstate opposes the SAFE Act by a relatively small percentage, but that percentage is considered statistically insignificant in the latest Siena College poll. Further, if the election is to be viewed as a litmus test on the SAFE Act upstate, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo leads Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino here in that same poll 47 percent to 34 percent.

While there are pockets of “repeal” lawn signs and bumper stickers throughout Western New York, those numbers are dwarfed by the numbers of homes and cars not sporting such positions. Rather, count the cars and yards that are not billboards for the National Rifle Association, SCOPE and the corporate gun lobby.

While the Times’ article notes that the law has spawned lawsuits, it fails to note that those lawsuits have been defeated in both state and federal courts.

There are other reasons that upstate voters may not support Cuomo. Many cite Common Core, hydrofracking and other matters to be of greater concern. Upstate voters, like the rest of the state, are more concerned about education, the economy and jobs. The same Siena College poll shows that the issues motivating voters are largely economic – 13 percent cite jobs; 12 percent each for taxes and education; fewer than 5 percent mention guns and the SAFE Act.

While gun ownership is higher upstate, so, too, are gun-related deaths. Because of the overall low gun ownership (18 percent) and strong gun regulations, New York has the fourth-lowest gun-death rate in the country despite a population of 20 million people and 80 million visitors annually.

A recent Violence Policy Center report, utilizing data from the Centers for Disease Control, shows that states with the lowest overall gun-death rates have both lower rates of gun ownership and strong gun-violence prevention laws.

Conversely, states with weak gun- violence prevention laws and higher rates of gun ownership have the highest overall gun-death rates in the nation.

Another indication that upstate and Western New York are not hotbeds of repeal frenzy is that the recent debate between Cuomo and Astorino in Buffalo did not even merit a question about the SAFE Act. Further, The Buffalo News’ endorsement of Cuomo for re-election did not mention the SAFE Act, the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle called it “a significant accomplishment” and the Albany Times Union called it “mostly commendable.”

Paul McQuillen is Western New York coordinator of New Yorkers Against Gun Violence.