Tonawanda News

January 16, 2013

Gun bill is good, process isn't

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The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — Praise is partially due for Gov. Andrew Cuomo for earning passage of a new gun control bill in New York, though his bare-knuckle tactics to do it shut out public comment and gave fuel to critics who say gun control is about a political agenda and not saving lives.

Cuomo’s deal bans the sale of assault-style weapons in New York, which should be a no-brainer. The governor was right in his State of the State address that nobody needs an assault rifle and 30 bullets to kill a deer. These guns are meant to kill people, plain and simple, and they don’t have a place on our streets.

But Cuomo’s decision to ram the bill through the Senate and Assembly just hours after a back room deal was struck stinks of the same old politics that makes Albany seem so dysfunctional.

Cuomo told capital reporters he pushed the bill to an immediate vote because he wanted to prevent a run on sales of the high powered guns the law bans. He has a fair point. Gun sales have spiked in the wake of the shooting in Newtown, Conn., with wary gun lovers rushing to buy up rifles they think are about to be banned. It’s a ghoulish reality that the death of 26 people has caused a spike in sales of the very same weapon, a reminder that human nature isn’t always pretty.

But Cuomo should have realized waiting three days for senators and assemblymen to read and debate the bill does more for democracy than preventing how every many sales would have taken place. Furthermore, almost none of the legislation goes into effect immediately, giving 60 days for most of the provisions — and for people still seeking to stock up on guns and ammo the time to do so whether the law passed today or three days from now.

There is the thought that allowing the bill to hang in limbo might have jeopardized its passage. Two thoughts: First, Cuomo’s considerable political power all but guaranteed its passage, even if the NRA and other pro-gun lobbying groups had more time to twist lawmakers’ arms. The votes might have been closer, particularly in the Senate, but it likely would have passed. Second, if a bill can’t withstand three days of public pressure, it doesn’t deserve to become law.

Also, it allows critics like the NRA to complain about the process and lets them off the hook for arguing its merits. To wit, the NRA’s statement:

“The National Rifle Association and our New York members are outraged at the draconian gun control bill that was rushed through the process late Monday evening. Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature orchestrated a secretive end-run around the legislative and democratic process and passed sweeping anti-gun measures with no committee hearings and no public input.”

Notice that nowhere in there do they make an argument for why assault rifles or high capacity ammunition clips should be allowed in New York (or anywhere for that matter)?

After Tucson, Aurora, Newtown and Webster, the arguments we’ve heard time and again in favor of more guns on our streets sound different. It’s why the NRA isn’t making them. They’re falling back on zany ideas like turning schools into forts with teachers armed to the teeth. Why not fire the teachers, make combat soldiers and the local SWAT team brush up on their algebra and hire them to educate our children instead?

I’m grateful the legislature passed Cuomo’s gun control bill. I just wish the governor would have realized giving it the proper airing — and thus getting the better of a necessary and vigorous public debate — is critical to winning the larger fight over reversing the perception that a gun owner’s right to carry weapons of war is somehow more important that safer schools and streets and preventing more innocent people from dying.

Eric DuVall is the managing editor of the Tonawanda News. His column appears Wednesdays and Sundays. Contact him at eric.duvall@tonawanda-news.com.