Approximately 34,500 New Yorkers are “too mentally unstable to carry firearms,” Anemona Hartocollis of The New York Times reported Sunday. The report looks at figures from a database established via the “SAFE Act” by the state Division of Criminal Justice Services, obtained by The Times through a Freedom of Information Act request.
What the database cannot do, the report acknowledges, is determine if the names on it represent people who are truly a danger to themselves or others, highlighting the rift between gun rights defenders and supporters of stricter controls. Those arguing on the side of rights point out the unfairness of preemptively denying them without adjudication to those who have not been proven a danger, while those with an agenda for wider citizen disarmament advocate “Even if just one dangerous person had a gun taken away, ‘that’s a good thing.’
“Similar laws in other states have raised the ire of gun rights proponents, who worry that people who posed no threat at all would have their rights infringed,” The Times points out. “Mental health advocates have also argued that the laws unnecessarily stigmatized people with mental illnesses.
“If the authorities find a person in the database has a gun permit — necessary to purchase a handgun in New York — they are required to revoke the license and seize any guns,” The Times continues. “The people in the database are barred from obtaining a permit until their names are purged.”
That’s a different contention than the one reporter Hartocollis began the report with, having used the specific word “carry.” Purchasing a gun, as opposed to obtaining a carry permit, are quite different things in New York, which follows the “may issue” discretion of authorities. The process is even more exclusive in New York City, where permissions are extremely rare, as exemplified by high-profile ones enjoyed by the rich, famous and connected like actor Robert De Niro, “shock jock” Howard Stern, and developer Donald Trump.
The basic inequities of that system are illustrated by a recent denial by NYPD of an unrestricted business carry license to Cavalier Knight president and firearms dealer Robert Reynolds, who was told he had “not demonstrated a special need for self-protection distinguishable from that of the general community.” Reynolds, who was chair of a Community Board Public Safety Committee, also saw his planned forum discussion on “the basic right to personal self-defense and the right to keep and bear arms in New York State” squelched by officials after he had already obtained approval, and a week before it was to take place. Not only is exercising the right denied, evidently so is discussing it.
As for the SAFE Act’s non-adjudicated, but nonetheless judged, citizen database, the Brady Campaign’s “if it saves one life” slogan aside, the added scrutiny won’t even do that. As has been observed in this column before, the deadliest mass murder in U.S. history, 9/11, was initiated ostensibly with common warehouse tools, the second greatest, the Oklahoma City bombing, reportedly with fuel oil and fertilizer, and the third most lethal, the Happy Land Dance Club fire, with gasoline and a match.
Clearly, anyone who cannot be trusted with a gun demonstrably cannot be trusted without a custodian, as everyday tools and substances that can be abused for murderous purposes are within reach of all who enjoy freedom of movement. Simply deeming such people prohibited from lawfully buying a gun will obviously not hamper their ability to obtain one unlawfully, or to use other means to injure and kill. The only safeguard against that happening is to remove such individuals from the general population.
The Bill of Rights, among other reasons for its adoption, is supposed to ensure that no one is deprived of freedom without due process. It is part of what all signatory states recognized at the time as “the supreme Law of the Land.” Any edict that denies freedom without first ensuring that rights are respected may be convenient for the state, but that’s not why a government of limited and defined powers, established to “secure the Blessings of Liberty,” was agreed to the first place.
UPDATE: Modified to show Mr. Reynolds was chair of the committee at that time. Article previously state “is.”
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