Cuomo’s Shameful SAFE Act
Rushed law is bad law, even when it’s “for the children.”

New York governor Andrew Cuomo


Charles C. W. Cooke

And so, one month after Sandy Hook, on January 15, the second day of New York’s 2013 legislative session, a vote was held. The bill passed by 104 votes to 43. At 5 p.m. the following day, the governor signed the bill. New York had a new law: the SAFE Act.

The Wall Street Journal noted politely that Cuomo was “eager” to be the first governor to act. State Senator Greg Ball put it more bluntly: Protesting against the bill late on the night of its passage, Ball said, “We haven’t saved any lives tonight, except one: the political life of a governor who wants to be president.” The senator’s understanding of Cuomo’s priorities was perceptive, but it was not simply that the governor wanted to claim credit for the “first bill.” It was also, Cuomo boasted, the “best bill.” The new legislation would allow his administration and the New York legislature “to say to people, yes, we went through terrible situations, but we saw, we learned, we responded, and we acted, and we are doing something about it.” Andrew Cuomo was proud of himself. He had succeeded in achieving all the points on his “seven-point agenda to stop the madness of gun violence” just six days after he’d announced it. New York now had “the toughest assault-weapon ban in the nation, period” — an odd yardstick, perhaps, but important to the man in Albany. “You can overpower the extremists,” he claimed ebulliently, “with intelligence and with reason and with common sense.” His bill, he told reporters, was packed full of all three.

Not everyone bought it. The reliably anti-gun New York Times described the governor’s behavior as “peculiar,” and worse:

Mr. Cuomo negotiated in secret with a few other powerful politicians on a dog’s breakfast of legislation that got no public discussion at all and was passed by state senators who had not even read it — because they were not given a chance to do so. The resulting bill is hard to judge on the merits. It’s a snarl of good ideas, strange ideas, and ideas that seem quite bad. While some items should figure into federal gun-control legislation, Washington should not take New York as an example of how to go about this difficult business.

The backlash against the SAFE Act was swift and strong. Doctors immediately slammed a provision requiring mental-health professionals to report patients whom they consider a risk to themselves or others. “The people who arguably most need to be in treatment, and most need to feel free to talk about these disturbing impulses,” may be the ones that the law makes least likely to do so, complained Dr. Paul Appelbaum of Columbia University, speaking to USA Today before the governor had even signed the bill. The consequences of the law, he continued, would probably be that at-risk gun owners “will either simply not come, or not report the thoughts that they have.” The chairman of the psychology department at the University at Buffalo, the State University of New York, Dr. Steven Dubovsky, was even harsher: “It’s pure political posturing. . . . No patient is going to tell you anything if they think you’re going to report them.” That these thoughts were poured out to a newspaper in the wake of the bill’s passage and not delivered to a committee hearing tells you all you need to know about the manner in which the law was compiled.

Police spoke up, too. The law, which among other things sought to ban all magazines that hold more than seven bullets and to prohibit the carrying of guns on school grounds, carried no loophole for police or other law-enforcement officers. “Won’t that be a problem?” a few bright sparks asked. “What if there’s a school shooting?” No, no, said Cuomo. You’re fine! We’ll fix that. Next? The entertainment industry raised its head, wondering aloud if it would be exempted from the regulations when producing movies and television in the state. Sure, said Cuomo, on the fly. You’re fine, too! We’ll fix that in the cleanup. Last week, gun owners complained, too, pointing out that it is all very well to ban the sale and use of magazines that hold more than seven rounds, but there was a small problem: There are very few magazines for sale that hold only seven rounds. Don’t worry about that, Cuomo said. That’s just a “grammatical error.” Citizens, he decreed, “you can have a magazine that can hold ten bullets, but you can only have seven bullets in the magazine unless you are at the range or in competition.”

This concession was unwelcome to the president of the Citizens Crime Commission of New York City, who told the New York Times, “We don’t want to have to tell the mother of a young man who’s just been shot and killed that he was killed with the ninth bullet.” Questions abound in response to arguments of this nature. Presumably the mother would be just as upset about her son’s demise if he were killed with the fifth bullet, so why not ban that one, too? And what evidence is there that a single criminal — who, by the logic of our brave legislators, is prepared to shoot someone dead — will follow a law determining how many rounds he may have in his gun? Alas, when adults say things like this in all seriousness, nobody laughs. At least some of the complaints, however, seem to be having an impact: In a begrudging bow to reality, the state senate, including five renegade Democrats, effectively suspended the seven-bullet limit “indefinitely,” as of this weekend. “The suspension means magazines holding up to 10 rounds will continue to be sold,” Bloomberg reported Sunday. The rest of the law remains intact.