February 24, 2013

Are You Feeling SAFE?

Early in January I wrote a post, One More Stab at Having a Gun Conversation, in which I expressed my willingness to try to understand some of the positions of the anti-gun control side, including those of the NRA as expressed by Wayne LaPierre after the Sandy Hook shootings.

After that post, I received an email response from a friend who is conservative, former military, a husband and father, married to a teacher, and one of my favorite people for deep conversations and thinking. Our conversation took a few weeks to play out, and ended up being well over 15,000 words (including the original post), but was interesting because while we started quite a bit apart from each other's opinion, we ended up with a significant amount of common ground.

And that was really the point of the post in the first place: people who actually are willing to struggle through a discussion on an emotionally-charged topic to find out whether there is any common ground may actually find some.  Jay and I got there, to common ground, because we respect each other and because we were willing to play it out until the end.

While we were having our own gun legislation debate, our governor Andrew Cuomo managed to rush through gun control legislation, either because he wants to be President (say the Republicans and their pundits) or because he wants us to be safe (say the Dems and their pundits). The bill is is the NY Secure Ammunition and Firearm Enforcement (SAFE) Act of 2013.

The SAFE Act includes many things and touches many areas of existing legislation, as illustrated by the bill's title (emphasis added):
An act to amend the criminal procedure law, the correction law, the family court act, the executive law, the general business law, the judiciary law, the mental hygiene law, the penal law and the surrogate's court procedure act, in relation to suspension and revocation of firearms licenses; private sale or disposal of firearms, rifles or shotguns and establishing a minimum age to possess a firearm; to amend the family court act, the domestic relations law and the criminal procedure law, in relation to providing for the mandatory suspension or revocation of the firearms license of a person against whom an order of protection or a temporary order of protection has been issued under certain circumstances, or upon violation of any such order; to amend the penal law, in relation to community guns and the criminal sale of a firearm and in relation to the definitions of aggravated and first degree murder; to amend chapter 408 of the laws of 1999 constituting Kendra's Law, in relation to extending the expiration thereof; and to amend the education law, in relation to the New York state school safety improvement teams; and in relation to building aid for metal detectors and safety devices.
All that sounds quite lofty, as these bills typically do.

In a nutshell, the bill limits ammunition clips, increases background checks on guns and ammo, adds penalties for shooting first responders (the Webster provision), increases requirements on gun owners, including some misdemeanor charges if these are not followed, redefines 'assault weapons' and bans future sales (but allows folks to keep them if they register them), and goes a long way towards trying to keep guns out of the hands of those with mental illness. It also increases penalties for gun crimes, bans some Internet sales, and requires renewal of permits.  And, it creates a review process for school safety programs, as well as providing for enhanced reimbursement for schools that purchase certain security devices.

The law is widely and ongoingly criticized, with nearly half of all counties in the state officially voicing their disapproval (Onondaga County, where I live, has not yet done so but likely will). For the most part, even people who believe in many of the provisions are appalled at the process and the speed with which the legislation was passed.

I share that concern; I agree conceptually with much of what's in the bill, particularly increased background checks, doing something to limit access by those with mental illness, and increasing  penalties for criminal use of guns, but I don't believe we needed to get a bill written, voted on, and signed all in a matter of hours.

In the coming days, I'll share some of the conversation I had with my buddy on guns and common ground. In the meantime, here's a thought for New York's Legislature and Governor Cuomo: being first out of the gate isn't what's going to get us to the finish line -- and by that I mean having viable, enforceable legislation that actually helps keep us safe.

After all, medals are given at the end of the race, not at the beginning.