Legislation rushed through passage is invariably bad law. And the gun bill that emerged overnight from the New York State Legislature, on its first day back, will surely be no exception. Written in private by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders and completed late yesterday, “rank-and-file Senators had only a few minutes to read the legislation before voting on it,” the New York Times reports. “If there is an issue that fits the definition of necessity,” Cuomo intoned, “I believe it’s gun violence.” Really! So pressing are events that the normal three-day waiting period, so legislators could study the bill, had to be waived?
So what do we have? A bill that bans, as “assault weapons,” semiautomatic pistols and rifles with detachable magazines and “one military-style feature,” and semiautomatic shotguns with such a feature. And what is a “military-style feature”? We’ve seen this play before. New Yorkers who already have such guns can keep them, but they’ll have to be registered. Expect litigation on all of those points. Once again, it’s the law-abiding people this bill will affect, not those we have to worry about.
But if the gun part of the bill is problematic, the mental health part is even more so. Mental health professionals would be required “to report to local mental health officials when they believe that patients are likely to harm themselves or others,” the Times tells us, the failure of which would not be sanctioned if they acted “in good faith.” Here again, as with the guns, we imagine that all we need is more law to address what is doubtless the most difficult part of the problem. The implications for confidentiality and, more important still, for encouraging people to seek help, are deeply troubling.
Yet the most important measure that could be taken immediately—one that has proven to reduce deaths from random mass shootings—seems to be missing altogether from this bill, despite the fact that two-thirds of Americans support it. It is to have armed security officials at schools and other currently “gun-free zones.” This act is likely to have little effect on the real problem, however much it makes those who promoted and passed it feel good.