The critics are out in force — they always are — but for those who understand that the Second Amendment allows for reasonable controls on firearms, the measures approved by the State Legislature on Tuesday are both welcome and sensible.
Gun crime is endemic and it’s peculiar to this country. In New York, we haven’t had a Columbine or a Sandy Hook or a Marjory Stoneman Douglas, but there’s no reason to think we are somehow immune from that kind of tragedy. Given that Washington won’t decisively move on what is, by any reasonable definition, a crisis, it is up to the states to implement laws that can help to keep their citizens safe. This law does that.
First, though, it’s important to understand what these laws don’t do. Notwithstanding the alarms of Assemblyman David DiPietro, R-East Aurora, they are not about gun confiscation from mentally sound people. The Second Amendment remains fully in force.
What the law does allow is for law enforcement, school officials or family members to take court action against people believed to be an “extreme risk.” A judge has to rule. With appropriate controls, it can hardly be controversial to limit the chance that such people — the kind who commit mass murder — can come into possession of the tools needed to carry out that bloody deed.
What is important is how “extreme risk” is defined and what an individual’s rights are to contest the designation. Due process is critical, and it appears to be baked into the law which, for example, requires an annual review. If critics want to argue that the law is too burdensome, they also need to account for the terrible consequences its absence invites.
That “red-flag” bill is easily the most controversial aspect of the package, which Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo is expected to approve. The measures also prohibit teachers from carrying guns on school property, ban bump stocks and extend the waiting period for people who do not pass an instant background check. They also create a gun buy-back program and provide regulators access to mental health records of out-of-state gun buyers. These initiatives create no undue burden and may help to save lives.
Critics, mainly from the National Rifle Association and similar organizations, are already fulminating about an assault on the Second Amendment, but the charge is ludicrous. No right, including those in the First Amendment, is without limits. Free speech famously does not allow someone to yell “Fire!” in a crowded theater. It would be strange, indeed, to conclude that someone in the sway of severe mental illness should be entitled to the same rights to firearms as a healthy individual.
Teachers, meanwhile, are welcoming the prohibition against them carrying firearms. That legislation came as a reaction to the misguided and dangerous idea of arming teachers as an appropriate response to increasing school violence.
Turning schools into firing ranges is more likely to increase the danger to students and others who, in addition to being shot, may gain access to a teacher’s gun. If it seems crazy to have to legislate against arming teachers, such are the times in which we live.
The ban on bump stocks is also a welcome decision, adding muscle to the ban imposed last month by the Trump administration. Bump stocks essentially turn semi-automatic weapons into automatic ones. The Las Vegas gunman used a bump stock in the October 2017 massacre that killed 58 people and wounded hundreds more. What valuable purpose should shield such implements from public revulsion?
Critics are already howling about these measures, but the fact is that they have exhausted their credibility. The NRA and other organizations have reflexively opposed all gun control measures. Their opposition has no relation to the merits of any bill. It’s a given.
New Yorkers who accept the need for well considered limits can be thankful the Legislature has acted on their behalf. The others, we hope, will come to understand that in a large and diverse state, their absolutist approach will sometimes have to give way to common sense.
And, in any case, no one has confiscated their guns.