Back in August, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo released what he called the “Make America Safer” pledge, demanding Democrat candidates endorse his four-point gun control plan. I confess, I didn’t hear anything about this at the time, and I’m guessing nobody else did either, because Cuomo basically decided on a do-over this weekend, re-launching his campaign to get the Democrats running for president to sign on to four measures:
- A ban on semi-automatic rifles and magazines deemed to be “high capacity”
- Creating a mental health data base that would be checked during firearm purchases
- A universal background check law
- Some form of Red Flag legislation
It’s a weird demand by Cuomo, since virtually every Democrat vying to be the next president already endorses what Cuomo is calling for, with perhaps the exception of a mental health database. Honestly, this whole stunt comes off as nothing more than a gubernatorial ego trip, especially given the fact that Cuomo patted himself on the back for New York’s SAFE Act and urged candidates to follow his lead.
“New York state passed these laws six years ago and they have worked,” Cuomo said. “No legal gun owners’ rights have been violated, but unnecessary, dangerous weapons are off the streets and dangerously mentally ill people cannot buy guns. We were the laboratory, and now it must be done on the national level. And if a candidate can’t support this pledge, I don’t believe they should be running for president as a Democrat.”
If New York is the laboratory, then Andrew Cuomo is the mad scientist who cobbled together the SAFE Act from gun control bills that had been lying around for years. And just like Dr. Frankenstein, Cuomo had no idea what his creation would do once unleashed on the world. Let’s go through some of failures of Cuomo’s baby, since he obviously has no interest in addressing its shortcomings.
The SAFE Act originally called for a ban on magazines over 7-rounds, but a judge struck down the limit and the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with the judge’s decision. The law currently allows for 10-round magazines, but you’re supposed to only have seven rounds in the magazine at any time. This asinine restriction is currently being enforced on a county-by-county basis, with some law enforcement choosing to arrest and prosecute someone for having a 10-rounds in a 10-round magazine, and others choosing not to enforce this part of the law.
There’s also the state’s registration requirement for so-called “assault weapons”, which few gun owners have complied with.
According to the state just 23,847 people registered their so-called “assault weapons” since the 2013 law took effect. These people registered a total of 44,485 firearms. So, according to the NSSF’s estimate, some 976,153 New Yorkers didn’t register their “assault weapons.”
This means that nearly one million New York State residents might now be committing felonies—this has turned average, and presumably otherwise law-abiding citizens, into a class of people who are now living beyond the law.
New York handgun owners were also required to re-register their pistols with their county clerk as part of the SAFE Act. You’ll never guess what happened next. Hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers didn’t comply with the 2018 deadline, forcing Cuomo and the New York State Police to extend the deadline to January of 2019. There’s absolutely no evidence that large numbers of New Yorkers complied with the law and met the 2019 deadline, but the governor has simply stopped talking about the pistol re-registration requirement.
The vast majority of SAFE Act prosecutions are for possessing a gun without a license, which was a misdemeanor offense in New York before the SAFE Act turned it into a felony. And the vast majority of SAFE Act prosecutions take place in Brooklyn and the Bronx. By far, the single biggest impact that the SAFE Act has had is sending more young black men to prison for non-violent, possessory gun offenses.
Slate‘s Emily Bazelon spent several months in the Brooklyn Gun Court, set up to handle the large number of SAFE Act prosecutions. What she found is that a lot of the guys who ended up getting three and a half years in state prison for possessing a firearm without a license had no real previous criminal history.
I thought I’d find horrific stories of gun violence and hardened evildoers, like de Blasio said. Instead, over many months of my reporting, I found hundreds of teenagers and young people, almost all of them black, being marched to prison not for firing a gun, or even pointing one, but for having one. Many of them had minimal criminal records. To be precise, when I went through 200 case files, I found that 70 percent of the defendants in gun court had no previous felony convictions.
Here’s what predicted who ended up on the benches in gun court: race and age. Black people are less likely to own guns than white people, but the defendants in gun court were almost all black teenagers and young men. An initiative that sounded like a targeted attack on America’s gun problem looked up close more like stop-and-frisk or the war on drugs—one more way to round up young black men.
This is the result of Andrew Cuomo’s plan to make New York safer, and it’s what his “Make America Safer” plan would bring to the country at large. The good news is America is becoming safer already, including states that haven’t bought into Cuomo’s idea of treating a right as if it’s a privilege. The bad news is that every Democrat running for president has the exact same mentality as Cuomo, even if they may have minor quibbles about the details.