Shortly after the horrific mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut that left 20 school children and 6 teachers dead, a coalition of more than 55 New York State Legislators - all Democrats - presented a letter to legislative leaders urging them to pass a state plan to reduce gun violence. Joined on the steps of New York's City Hall in Manhattan by advocates and victims of gun violence, the coalition unveiled an eight point plan that will yield real results.
The plan, which the coalition urges be passed when the legislature convenes in January, includes the following measures:
- Require Universal Background Checks on the Sale of all Guns
- Strengthen Assault Weapons Ban
- Strengthen High Capacity Ammunition Magazine Ban
- Require Microstamping to Help Law Enforcement Solve Gun Crimes
- Require Gun Licenses to be Renewed Every 5 Years
- Improve Gun Dealer Regulations
- Regulate Ammunition Sales
- Limit Personal Gun Purchases to One a Month
Many of these proposals have been longstanding bills in the legislature and have been endorsed by New Yorkers Against Gun Violence and the Violence Policy Center.
Assemblywoman Michelle Schimel, Co-Chair of State Legislators Against Illegal Guns and longtime gun control advocate, said, “Are we at the tipping point on gun control? Can 20 babies and six dedicated teachers’ lives change the political equation on strengthening gun laws in New York State and America? I hope so. New York State must be a leader on this issue. My constituents are demanding a plan. We have a plan.”
“The horrors of gun violence are never forgotten by the communities that experience them," said Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh Co-Chair of State Legislators Against Illegal Guns. "We know that lax gun laws play a major role in contributing to this violence. We understand our obligation to take sensible action at the state level to alter the course we’re on and keep our communities safe. We will not forget, and we will not rest until we’ve achieved this purpose.”
Senator Eric Adams, Co-Chair of State Legislators Against Illegal Guns stated, "Numerous incidents throughout the year and most recently the massacre in Newtown, Connecticut makes it quite evident that gun violence is very prevalent in New York City and across the nation. This crippling epidemic must compel responsible legislators and community members to combat the scourge of gun violence by demanding stronger gun control law reform. As legislators, we must collaborate on solutions to make our City a safer place. We have the duty to protect our citizens from the disastrous effects of gun violence."
More than 55 members of the New York State Senate and Assembly have signed the letter to state legislative leaders: Senator Dean G. Skelos, Leader, Republican Conference, Senator Jeffrey D. Klein, Leader, Independent Democratic Conference, Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins, Leader, Democratic Conference, Assemblymember Sheldon Silver, Speaker, Assemblymember Brian M. Kolb, Leader, Republican Conference.
Over 28 state legislators from the New York's state Assembly and Senate, 20 advocates of sensible gun legislation, as well as two family members of victims were in attendance.
The event was not closed to Republicans, but so far, no Republicans have come forward to sign on and none attended the press conference.
But following this event, New York State Senator Jack M. Martins ((R-7th Senate District in Nassau County) joined a coalition of Great Neck mayors in signing a statement calling for a national effort against gun violence.
And in a Dec. 19 letter on his website, Senator Martins suggested he was open to tighter federal regulation, including more thorough and comprehensive background checks, though he did not in any way call for a renewal of the ban on assault weapons or limitations on high-capacity ammunition clips. And like the other gun rights advocates, he shifted focus to mental illness (something that Congress has shown little interest in addressing through funding) and a culture of violence as exemplified by violent video games.
"Somewhere, somehow, rationality slipped away from us, whether it be gun control, care for the mentally ill, or on a much larger scale, what appears to be our national fascination with violence. One need only scan our movies or prime-time TV to determine that much of what we watch involves violence, murder, or other heinous crimes. ....I am not blaming the entertainment industry for the violence we see around us. I believe in personal responsibility and accountability, but have we ourselves become desensitized to the violence? Surely I can’t be alone in wondering.
"Then what about guns and our constitutional right to bear them? I support the second amendment and the rights of my neighbors and friends who own guns, all good, law-abiding citizens. But there are legitimate arguments on both sides. By any measure legal gun owners are not the people perpetrating the thousands upon thousands of gun crimes each year, yet the majority of high profile massacres have been committed with legally obtained, registered weapons that fell into the wrong hands. And while states like New York carefully vet potential gun owners, the laws in other states vary in intensity, making illegal weaponry far too easy to obtain and transport over state lines. Our own laws are circumvented regularly by those who merely travel to states with less stringent gun laws and bring them back illegally.
"The undeniable fact is that in nations that maintain a unified approach to gun regulation, the homicide rate by firearm is significantly lower. Where our Asian and European counterparts averaged between 10 and 50 per year in 2011, we own the notorious distinction of approximately 9,000 firearm homicides per year, a full 60 percent of all homicides in the U.S. Canada, just to our north, had similar debates as we do here but in 1977 instituted a national system of firearms licensing and saw their related homicide rate fall precipitously. Their most recent data shows a total of 173. So how do we explain this?
"I think the issue clearly then is not over-regulating the legitimate gun owner but rather first creating federal legislation that standardizes requirements and processes across the nation to more appropriately determine who is eligible for ownership. We simply have to have a rational baseline for gun ownership whether purchased in New York or North Carolina, Alaska or Florida.
"Then we have to take on issues of enforcement. We clearly have failed here. For example, I was shocked to learn that possession of an illegal weapon is not a felony. How could it not be? An unlicensed person who intentionally obtains a weapon through illegal means clearly has crime or chaos in mind. There is no other purpose to having an illegally obtained firearm. Can we honestly say we’re serious about gun control when we’re not serious about holding illegal gun owners accountable? It makes no sense.
"I’ve discussed the issue with gun proponents and opponents here in New York and the majority agree that a national (50 state and territories) approach to regulation that involves a licensing process for the applicant along with background check and wait periods at time of purchase is not only logical, but necessary. It protects the average citizen from violence and would finally allow law enforcement to make real gains in stopping the flow of illegal firearms while simultaneously protecting the rights of gun owners.
"The bottom line is that gun ownership is a tremendous responsibility, yet our country has yet to treat it as such. The hodgepodge of laws that have barely been cobbled together reflects that. And, despite some of the strongest gun laws in the country, the proliferation of illegal guns in our state is sad testament to that same fact.
"Even if Congress were to pass a comprehensive rational gun policy , a very real issue that is again rearing its head is how our country classifies the mentally ill and how we care for them. Years ago we rightfully started to move people from what were categorized as inhumane 'institutions' into mainstream living at home with families or in group homes. While this effort has been mostly successful, it is also easier for people to fall through the cracks with caretakers struggling to obtain the care needed for family members. We can no longer ignore this reality. How do we improve this going forward?
"The answers to all of these questions will only become evident when we stop pointing fingers and accusing the stereotyped “other side” of attacking us. We all want exactly the same thing: safety for ourselves and our loved ones – and that’s a good starting point. It’s simply a matter of mustering enough courage to put aside some our own deeply held opinions long enough to reach rational compromise.
"We are angry. We are sad. We are resolute," Martins wrote.
The letter to Assembly and Senate leadership and the legislative agenda are available online here: http://bit.ly/T10sgZ
Stronger Gun Laws: A Plan to Protect New Yorkers
Require Universal Background Checks on the Sale of all Guns
§ Require all gun sales to go through a licensed firearms dealer where a background check can be performed and proper records kept.
§ Require criminal background checks on all gun dealer employees handling guns.
Strengthen Assault Weapons Ban
§ Broaden the definition of assault weapon to ban any weapon that has one prohibited characteristic rather than two as specified in current law. Include a provision for Superintendent of State Police to review new assault weapons and add them to a list of banned weapons if they meet statutory criteria.
§ Ban possession and sale – no grandfathering.
Strengthen High Capacity Ammunition Magazine Ban
§ Ban possession and sale of all high capacity ammunition magazines over 10 bullets.
Microstamping Legislation to Help Law Enforcement Solve Gun Crimes
§ Require all semi-automatic handguns sold or delivered in New York to be equipped with a new technology that imprints a unique code onto the shell casings every time a gun is fired.
Require Gun Licenses to be Renewed Every 5 Years
§ Require 5-year renewable licenses for all those owning handguns. Currently licenses are only required to be renewed in New York City, on Long Island and in Westchester.
Improve Gun Dealer Regulations
§ Require gun dealers to have stringent recordkeeping, submit inventory to law enforcement, store firearms safely, and report lost or stolen firearms.
Regulate Ammunition Sales
§ Require background checks or showing of a permit on all ammunition sales. Look into types of ammunition sold if one does not have a handgun permit.
One Gun a Month
§ Limit people to the purchase of no more than one handgun a month.
Statements from others who attended the event urging adoption of the legislative agenda:
Jackie Hilly, Executive Director New Yorkers Against Gun Violence: “New York has always been a national leader on sensible gun laws. Every community in our state has the right to be safe and free from gun violence. Yet each week innocent children and women are injured and killed by high powered guns in the wrong hands. The legislation we support today addresses loopholes in our background check system, the horrible toll created by military style weapons and high capacity magazines in civilian hands, and the need for sensible regulations on the way guns are sold. 2012 has been the worst year for gun violence in our nation’s history. These sensible and long overdue measures must be passed and signed into law this year. Then and only then can we honestly say that we are doing our best to keep New York safe.”
Leah Gunn Barrett, NYAGV Board Member: “I support the legislation announced here today because as a mother and a victim of gun violence, I have some idea of what the parents in Newtown are going through. Their pain is the worst kind of pain imaginable. They lost their small children in a horrific act of gun violence. Each death affects so many others - family members, friends, co-workers, whole communities. The true number of victims each year is hundreds of thousands, millions over the years. And each senseless death diminishes us as a nation. If we are honest with ourselves, the shooting in Newtown and countless other acts of gun violence could and should have been prevented. Our shame is that for years we have known what to do. We just haven't bothered to do it or to demand it of our elected officials.”
Senator Michael Gianaris: “How many atrocities are needed before we stand up and take action against the gun culture plaguing our nation? Newtown is only the latest of such avoidable horrors to visit our nation. The sensible gun proposals put forth today, which would make New York State the nation's toughest on guns, are the kinds of measures that must be passed to save the lives of innocent people. I join my colleagues in calling for immediate action on these proposals to make us safer from gun violence and keep such senseless, heartbreaking tragedies from repeating themselves time and again.”
Assemblywoman Linda B. Rosenthal: “It has unfortunately taken the massacre of 20 young children to force the country to started talking about strengthening gun laws. Though New York has some of the strongest gun laws in the country, we can do more. Military-style assault weapons have no place outside of the battlefield, and banning these weapons is a reasonable step to making the country safer and more secure. The Assembly has passed bills such as this time and time again, and it is time that the Senate muster the political courage to do what is right, and not merely what is politically expedient.”
Assemblyman David Weprin: “All of our lives have been forever changed by this horrific event. It is so hard to understand this terrible tragedy; it is unthinkable, it is unimaginable, it is incomprehensible. But so sadly, it is real. This time, it must be different; we must not look the other way. We must take action. Enough families have shed tears for their loved ones who have been victims of these heinous acts of violence. I will continue to work with my colleagues in Albany to tighten our gun control laws here in New York State.”
Congresswoman-elect Grace Meng: “The shooting in Newtown was a horrible and senseless attack that shocked and saddened me and all Americans. There is no more time for procrastination. I hope that the recent events will open the eyes of those who have been so staunchly opposed to common sense gun-control laws in the past.”
Karen Rubin, Long Island Populist Examiner
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