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Beinhart's Body Politic: The Whereasses Among Us 

click to enlarge Larry Beinhart's Body Politic
  • Dion Ogust

The New York Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act of 2013 (born to be an acronym—the NY SAFE Act), was enacted in January. In February, resolutions opposing it popped up all over the state. The one in Ulster County was introduced by Ken Ronk, the Republican majority leader. The Daily Freeman, Kingston's valiantly still-in-print daily paper, described Ronk's resolution thusly: "five pages long and offers 32 separate reasons."*

It does, indeed, have 32 Whereasses in it. But not 32 reasons.

The first four Whereasses refer to the Second Amendment. The resolution doesn't quote it, why bother, all gun lovers know it by heart, but you may not, so here it is: "A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed." Seven are complaints that it was passed too fast, given that (one more whereas) the bill was controversial. Three claim that only law-abiding citizens will be impacted, it will turn them into criminals, and real criminals don't obey laws anyway! Which sounds like a pretty good argument against any criminal laws. Six say that it's too burdensome. Two quote the local sheriff, one says regulating guns will hurt the economy, another that since a previous bill hasn't worked this one won't either, one says that these Whereasses had to be proclaimed because that's what legislators do, one actually likes part of the bill, the part that goes after crazy people who are not members of the legislature.

You may wonder what the SAFE Act actually does. Many guns have detachable magazines. Current law allows 10 shots in a clip; SAFE cuts it to seven. It requires background checks are for all gun sales, unless you sell it to your sister or another member of your immediate family. Ammunition dealers now have to do background checks too. If you buy ammunition over the Internet it has to be delivered through a dealer in New York State. If your gun is stolen, you have to report it within 24 hours. If you have a felon in the family, living at home, your guns have to be safely stored. If a judge gives you an order of protection, he can make the person threatening you give up their guns. It makes it a felony to bring a gun on school grounds or a school bus. It narrows the definition of assault weapons. If you have one, you can keep it, but you can only sell it out of state. It increases the penalty for gun crimes, especially shooting cops, firemen, and EMTs.

Naturally, the one provision that Mr. Ronk and his colleagues like is the one that's actually disturbing. If a therapist thinks a patient is really threatening to harm someone, he is required to report it to a mental health director, who reports it the Department of Criminal Justice, which can have the patient's guns taken away. Also, law enforcement officials can take your guns, without a warrant, if they have probable cause to believe you're about to use them for a crime or that you're a nut.

The law was passed because a young man walked into an elementary school with two handguns plus a Bushmaster AR-15 assault rifle with 30-round clips. He fired off about 150 shots. He killed 20 children, plus six teachers and staff.

How bad is gun violence? How many people get shot? Can it be curbed? Should it be curbed? How can it be done most effectively? Good questions.

There are no good answers. Since the days when it became obvious that cigarettes cause cancer, corporate interests have been battling science. They've gained a lot of experience. They spend a lot of money. They buy researchers who will write reports that favor their businesses. They bury information they don't like. They drag, delay, and muddy the waters. The Republican Right has embraced their causes, adopted their methodology, and staked out the fight against science as their ideology. Yes, it sounds weird, that anyone since the days when the Catholic Church was busy banning Galileo and Copernicus would take up antiscience as their banner, but that's what's happened.

The Centers for Disease Control were studying gun violence. First, the Republicans tried to shut down that division of the CDC entirely. When that failed, according to reporting by Michael Lou in the New York Times, Republicans "stripped $2.6 million from the disease control centers' budget, the very amount it had spent on firearms-related research the year before. Language was also inserted into the centers' appropriations bill that remains in place today: 'None of the funds made available for injury prevention and control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention may be used to advocate or promote gun control.'" Since any examination of gun violence is likely to lead to gun control, it was taken to mean that such studies were forbidden.

What we do know is that every day since the children were killed at Sandy Hook, on average, 18 people have been killed by guns. (How Many People Have Been Killed by Guns Since Newtown? Chris Kirk and Dan Kois, Wednesday, February 20, 2013, Slate.) There have also been five more shootings on school grounds, with one of the fatalities a 12-year-old girl.

Governor Cuomo was right to pass a bill before the revulsion against murdering children had a chance to fade. Given a chance, gun industry money, the NRA, and folks like Ken Ronk would have done all they could to make any change impossible. As for the Second Amendment, SAFE lets everyone keep their guns. Yes, you can defend your home against invaders. Many of the Whereasses falsely believe that tyrants took away the people's guns in order to rise to power, and they have the valiant, Mel Gibson fantasy they will be tomorrow's Bravehearts when the United Nations takeover comes. I doubt that 10 rounds per clip, rather than the meager seven, will make the difference in those battles. Will the secret militias that train in our hills but stay in our B&Bs go elsewhere because of the background checks on ammo sales? Are there really enough of them to affect our economy? For those of you who have dangerous felons in your house, won't it be nice to say, "Joey, I gotta lock up the guns, that's the law." Sheriff Van Blarcum, who made the curious argument, quoted in the Freeman, that "anybody wants to do anything, they will find a way to do it," noting that laws against drugs haven't stopped the drug problem, should be grateful. In spite of his realization about drug laws, his department has pursued drug arrests with particular zeal. This will give him something to do when marijuana is legalized.

* The full text of the resolution can be found at Co.ulster.ny.us/resolutions/0154-13.

  • Larry Beinhart discusses the New York SAFE Act of 2013.

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