Almost a year has passed since the New York State legislature passed a law, known as the SAFE act, to enforce strict regulations on gun possession in the state. Passed shortly after the Sandy Hook shooting, the law placed restrictions on assault weapon ownership and imposed more severe penalties for illegal possession of guns.
Of course, the gun lobby activists quickly contested the law in court, claiming that the legislation violated the Second Amendment, which guarantees the right to bear arms.
Fortunately for New Yorkers, U.S. District Court Judge William M. Skretny upheld most of the law’s provisions, as was announced last week.
The gun-rights activists think that limiting assault weapons violates the civil rights of gun owners, but such arguments reveal a deep ignorance of the history of firearm regulation in the United States.
Laws restricting the use of guns have been on the books almost as long as the ink has been dry on the Second Amendment. As far back as the 18th century, states have placed conditions on firearm ownership. In some states, non-Protestants were forbidden to have guns, and following the Civil War, six states banned handguns. In 1918, Montana enacted a law that required all gun owners to register their firearms with local law enforcement authorities. The right to bear arms was always interpreted as a right to be circumscribed by the parameters of reasonable use.
While gun-rights advocates keep reiterating that the legislation was a display of political grandstanding by the governor, they have yet to explain why anyone needs magazines for assault weapons that have a capacity of more than 10 bullets. If the weapon serves as self -protection, why would anyone need more firepower than what some NYPD officers have in their holsters? The Smith & Wesson 5906, standard issue for New York’s cops, contains 10 rounds of ammunition in its magazine. And if citizens need guns for hunting, surely killing deer and rabbits does not require assault rifles. After all, the deer and rabbits are not shooting back.
True, many criminals won’t care about assault weapon bans, but limiting access to high-powered weapons and high-capacity magazines will make it much harder for deranged and suicidal individuals to buy an assault rifle and machine-gun schools, shopping malls, airports or government buildings. In his ruling, Skretny cited 67 gun-related massacres since 1982, and more than three-quarters were perpetrated with legally-obtained guns. More than half the guns used had high-capacity magazines, magazines that are now banned under the SAFE Act. Most of the killers were mentally disturbed in some way.
The SAFE Act keeps weapons of mass destruction out of the hands of dangerously irresponsible individuals. Other states should follow New York’s example and pass a similar law.