SAFE Act missed mark in combating gun violence

Posted 18 February 2014 at 12:00 am

2nd Amendment advocates have admirable goals


I am writing in response to the Rev. Thomas E. Gardner’s letter on Jan. 17, in which he expresses a hope that in all the discussion of New York State’s SAFE Act, the problem of gun violence is not ignored. I can assure the Reverend that his hopes should be satisfied, because the NY SAFE Act has nothing to do with gun violence. I have two reasons for making this statement.

First, the term “gun violence” is meaningless. A gun, a contraption of metal, wood and plastic, is incapable of any emotion. It is a tool. Tools can be designed well or poorly, and used properly or improperly, but they are incapable of having a moral function until they are used by a human agency. Therefore, attempting to address a human problem like violence by placing limitations on tools is irrelevant and a waste of time.

My dad taught Driver Education in the Orleans County schools for 40 years, and taught Hunter Safety for almost as long. I remember him saying that he was trying to help people learn how to safely use two things they tended to kill themselves with. He often commented on the reaction to increasing deaths on the highways: pass laws making it a crime not to fasten your seatbelt, or mandating things like air bags and reducing the speed limits, all the while cutting funding for driver education. Dad would say that the only fix that you could make to a car to make it truly safer was to adjust the nut behind the wheel.

I believe that focusing on the tool rather than the user misguidedly absolves the user from responsibility. Just as you would not let someone drive a car who has not passed the requirements for a license, I support reasonable proficiency tests for firearm ownership. As NRA Certified Instructors, my son and I have followed in Dad’s footsteps, and helped many people gain that proficiency. Addressing human beings is the only productive way to solve a human problem like violence.

Second, the way in which the SAFE Act was passed and its contents are deeply offensive to many citizens of New York State. The speed with which it was rammed through the Legislature as an emergency measure, to try to take advantage of public outrage over the school shootings in Connecticut, was shameful. I was discussing this subject with several members of my daughter’s high school Debate team a few months ago. One of them had a particularly pithy comment. “When you say to me, ‘we have to act now, while peoples’ emotions are high!’ I hear you saying, ‘If people were calm, they wouldn’t go along with this.’”

The registration requirements of the SAFE Act are egregious. There is no recognized definition of an “assault rifle.” Nevertheless, if you own a rifle, bought legally years before this law was passed, that has some cosmetic features the law deems dangerous, and you fail to register it by a certain date, you become a felon. So the law criminalizes people for doing something that was legal when they did it.

Other parts of the law are almost as absurd, like the requirement for a background check for purchasing ammunition. There is no data to support the idea that limiting ammunition availability has any effect whatever on violent crime. In fact, if you look at statistics, the only laws that can be shown to reduce violent crime are laws that permit good citizens to carry concealed firearms.

Our society is being subjected to a coordinated effort to encourage us to believe that firearms are somehow evil or produce violent behavior. The “zero tolerance” reactions in schools may seem absurd, but they teach children that guns are scary, and people who like guns should be punished. This is what the opponents of the NY SAFE Act are reacting to. It is part of a deliberate attack on American exceptionalism and our traditional value of individuality. That is what we are fighting, and what we are defending.

I hope that the Reverend will consider these points, and be reassured that opposition to the NY SAFE Act is motivated by values and intentions that he could find acceptable, or even admirable.

Douglas R. Pratt