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Bob McCarthy: Brown clears his throat on the SAFE Act

Robert J. McCarthy

About 3,000 people – including Mayor Byron Brown – jammed into Niagara Square last weekend as part of the nationwide movement demanding stricter gun control.

It would make sense for the mayor to join the big crowd of primarily young people. He attends his share of funerals for Buffalo kids killed by guns, and last weekend his position was clear.

“We stand shoulder to shoulder with them in this movement,” Brown told the crowd, referring to young peoples’ protests in cities across the country.

“Protecting our students and community is a responsibility that falls upon all of us,” he continued. “The federal government must listen to the public outcry for change. They must enact responsible gun control legislation.”

Five years ago, when Gov. Andrew Cuomo pushed through his still controversial SAFE Act and its strict new controls on guns, his position was less than clear. While the leaders of New York, Rochester, Syracuse and Yonkers all wholeheartedly backed Cuomo’s efforts, Brown never fully jumped on board.

Back then, maybe Brown would have attended the Niagara Square rally; maybe not. Or maybe he would have just visited. And for just a short time.

During a 2013 interview with The Buffalo News, the mayor would not commit to full support of the law. He would not comment on its more controversial elements, such as the provision limiting ammo clips to seven bullets (later amended to 10).
“My focus is not on what I don’t like,” he said in 2013. “My focus is on doing everything I can to make our city safer.”

Back then, the mayor just would not talk about it. A few days ago, however, he insisted he always favored the SAFE Act but reflected law enforcement’s concerns over the ammo clip restrictions.

Now, just like last weekend in Niagara Square, Brown offers no hesitation in offering just where he stands on one of the nation’s most controversial issues.

“I certainly believe we need comprehensive and sensible gun control legislation,” he said. “I do support the SAFE Act.”

The mayor says amendments to the ammo clip rules have eased his concerns, and dismisses any complications once presented by his old friends in the Conservative Party.

Through much of his political career, Brown ran with the backing of Conservative leaders. Like the future mayor, they were part of the team former County Executive Dennis Gorski assembled three decades ago.

In 2013, Brown was preparing to run for a third term and sought the often influential minor party line. At the time, Erie County Conservative Chairman Ralph Lorigo didn’t hesitate to remind the mayor about his party’s opposition to any new limits on guns.

“I think the mayor is smart enough to realize where Western New Yorkers are on this. It’s an upstate-downstate issue,” Lorigo said then. “I think that clearly, the mayor is looking at that as well as his relationship to the Conservative Party.”

But much has changed. Brown really didn’t need the tiny Conservative Party back then, and he certainly doesn’t need it now. He cruised to a fourth term last November after finally ending his often complicated relationship with the minor party.

“I don’t think that was a concern front and center at the time,” he said a few days ago. “Last year’s election certainly re-enforced that.”

Significantly, the mayor holds another job these days as state Democratic chairman. That requires full adherence to Cuomo dogma – no waffling on the basics – especially the SAFE Act.

The mayor points to a perfect gun control score as a member of the State Senate. And it appears that severing his Conservative ties now frees him to be where he really wants to be.

“Ultimately, we need federal gun control legislation; this is not a state by state issue,” he said.

“I have great confidence in these young people who say they will not be silenced,” he added. “And people who will not take a strong and serious stand on gun control will be voted out of office.”

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