A new package of laws written in response to the Sandy Hook school shootings was making its way rapidly to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s desk this week. The hastily prepared rules would tighten New York State’s already-tough gun laws, putting further restrictions on so-called assault weapons and providing law enforcement with procedures to take firearms away from some people deemed mentally ill.
An expanded state ban on rapid-fire weapons and large-capacity ammunition clips might reduce the death toll in extremely unlikely mass shootings, but it would do nothing about the almost run-of-the-mill shootings that take place in the state’s cities and rural areas. Moreover, New York already is among the states with the lowest number of firearm deaths per capita. According to the Violence Policy Center, which advocates for gun control, only New Jersey, Hawaii, and Massachusetts had fewer. The states with higher rates of gun ownership had higher rates of gun-related deaths.
While dramatic and headline-grabbing, Albany’s effort will probably do little to reduce gun violence. What would do so is a long-term approach to reducing the number of firearms in the state over a period of 10, 20, even 30 years. Unfortunately, any state effort will be at best only a half-measure without national action.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has emerged as a leader of the gun-control movement, presented a plan at Johns Hopkins University in Maryland recently to reduce firearm violence. His ideas include thorough background checks, making illegal gun trafficking a federal offense, and limiting assault weapons and clips.
These steps, while sensible, fail to make a priority of reducing the sheer number of guns — both legal and illegal — in this country. The statistics are unarguable: The more armed a state’s populace, the greater the chances its residents will die from firearm injuries. Measures that do not over time draw down the innumerable private arsenals tucked away in closets, gun safes, and under beds through buy-backs and other measures will only prolong the killing.