If you haven’t heard, this Saturday, January 19, has been declared by an Atlanta man to be “Gun Appreciation Day.” Reports indicate that his motives are to rally support and affection for the much-vilified implement after the horror in Newtown last month, and will come in the same week that has seen historic gun laws passed in this state and proposed on the federal level.
At first blush, it seems like the people behind this holiday are trying to have things both ways — when someone shoots somebody, it’s the person’s fault and the gun is a blameless amoral tool, equivalent to a hammer, knife or other implement with the potential for deadly misuse and thus should not be especially restricted, but the gun is so special that it warrants its own holiday and must, according to some, be placed on a high, sacred shelf forever above debate or regulation. I am not sure how those two things are reconciled, but guns are worthy of some appreciation, as are hammers, knives and other implements if — and this is a colossal “if” — used for just ends, to protect and liberate rather than ravage or enslave.
The problem is people, either mentally ill, evil or both, continue to use guns for unjust ends and while even just two months ago gun-control opponents seemed wrapped in the political equivalent of Kevlar, popular opinion seems to be turning. An Associated Press/GfK poll released Wednesday found 58 percent of Americans favoring tougher gun laws. A CNN/Time poll also released Wednesday found 56 percent of Americans favor a ban on semi-automatic weapons, 58 percent favor a ban on high-capacity ammunition magazines and 69 percent favor a law requiring all firearm owners to register their guns with a local government. Those are numbers which politicians notice, and loosen the gun lobby’s heretofore-iron grip.
Whether the gun lobby had much of a grip at all in Albany is subject to debate, but whatever hold it had it completely lost this week. With uncommon rapidity — and indicating that Andrew Cuomo truly is in charge of this state like no one’s been in a long time — a package of laws was passed which will break new ground in American gun control. There’s an expanded definition of what is an assault weapon, strict restrictions on the transference of such weapons and a new registry for them. There’ll be a standardization of pistol-permit granting, so all counties will have the same standards. (Those of us familiar with Dutchess know that the retired sheriff in charge of issuing permits was very liberal with their issuance.) Permit holders will be required to renew every five years, and undergo an updated background check. Magazine capacities will be limited to seven; many magazines made before the 1994 federal assault weapons ban will have to be turned in or sold out of state. (Existing 10-round clips can be grandfathered in, but can only be loaded with seven rounds.) Mental health providers will have stricter requirements on reporting patients who talk about hurting themselves and/or others, and that information will go into a more comprehensive database. Also, in the wake of the Journal News making available the names and addresses of all pistol-permit holders in Rockland and Westchester, permit holders can, in certain circumstances, but themselves beyond the reach of the Freedom of Information Law. Penalties for using a gun in a crime will be increased, background checks will become mandatory for any transfer or sale of a gun except to an immediate member and Kendra’s Law, which gives a judge the power to require mental health treatment for those appearing to pose a threat to his or herself or others, was extended.
In all, it’s a very wide-ranging package that will very likely go further than anything President Obama will even propose, much less actually get through Congress. Will it lessen gun violence? You have to think so; it’s been seen in many other countries in the world that fewer guns lead, amazingly, to fewer incidents involving guns. It will certainly merit watching as the new restrictions take effect, and one must assume that these laws, as well as any other new gun laws, will end up finally being ruled upon by the Supreme Court.
Until then, the New York Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act will be a starting point for a lot of arguments and stoke a lot of fear. There are so many people in all parts of this country with an elemental dread that if there’s more gun control, it will open the door to either them being killed by a criminal, or a totalitarian takeover of the government. It is very difficult to talk those people down from those fears. But the calming of fear is a form of appreciation, isn’t it? Or maybe what the recent polls indicate are the shucking off of one form of fear in favor of another — the fear of an Aurora, a Newtown or a Webster.