Weapons Ban: Hearings Should Have Been Held

Will the state Legislature’s assault weapon ban actually keep assault weapons from those who shouldn’t have them?

It’s hard to say.

New York has had laws on the books banning assault weapons since 2000. Still, in December, a convicted felon in Webster, N.Y., who couldn’t legally buy any gun used assault weapons to kill two volunteer firefighters. Officials ranging from Gov. Andrew Cuomo to Sheriff Joe Gerace have said loopholes in the system render existing laws nearly useless.

That history casts doubt on the effectiveness of legislation approved Monday and Tuesday by the state Legislature.

Some of the legislation makes sense. Under the new law, assault weapons won’t be available on the Internet. The law increases punishment for those who shoot at first responders. The new law creates real-time background checks of ammunition purchasers that could alert authorities of high-volume purchases, possibly staving off future gun violence.

Other pieces of the state’s legislation, however, are difficult to enforce and could actually penalize lawful gun owners. For example, the law makes unsafe storage of assault weapons a misdemeanor crime. It also includes a provision that stolen guns be reported within 24 hours, with failure to do so resulting in misdemeanor charges.

The new law does include a provision requiring therapists who believe a mental health patient made a credible threat to use a gun illegally to report it to a mental health director, who in turn would have to notify the state. The patient’s gun could then be taken away.

Whether you’re for or against restrictions on assault weapons, most people would agree such legislation should have been discussed publicly. State residents should have had more opportunity to make their opinions known to their state legislators. Public hearings should have been held so responsible gun owners could voice their opinions while making sure loopholes that weakened prior assault weapon bans are closed.

There are many questions that should have been asked. How can we use existing background information to trigger a more strict review of a person’s ability and mental heath capabilities to own a gun? What triggers exist that may show a person’s proclivity to commit gun violence? How should society balance the right to bear arms with the responsibility to keep its citizens safe?

New York residents deserve an open, honest and thorough discussion about guns.

Maybe that discussion will happen someday. It certainly didn’t happen this week.