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Sherman Says: Walking the gun control tightrope is an early test for ambitious Andrew Cuomo

SPRINGVILLE — Just when you thought we had safely emerged from a two-year maelstrom of political campaigning, there goes Gov. Andrew Cuomo, skipping stones across the political pond in Albany.

It is far too early to be looking for the next Democratic presidential candidate. An excessive amount of campaigning, debating and sniping does little to energize voters. It wears them out.

Cuomo seemed to be cozying up to a national issue last week, when he dramatically stepped into the complex issue of gun control. While he could have done just fine, sticking to a more traditional Empire State script that would include equal doses of economic development and a clean environment, Cuomo went after a real issue as fresh as the horrible headlines from Webster and Newtown.

“‘Sullivan’s Law’ of 1911 was the nation’s first gun control law – a model law that required a permit for possession of a hand gun,” Cuomo said, in his 2013 state of the state speech. “The time has come to make New York safer and, once again, lead the way for other states to follow.”

He called for New York state to pass the toughest ban on the sale of assault weapons in the country and to eliminate large-capacity magazines, regardless of their manufacture date.

Cuomo also announced that he will propose requiring that any sale in New York state, between private parties, be subject to the same background checks as those done on a commercial scale. While New York mandates that individuals’ buying guns from dealers or at gun shows be checked to determine whether they have a criminal record, suffer from mental illness or otherwise are in a category of persons prohibited from owning guns, no such checks are currently done, when a gun is sold privately.

Cuomo said that he will propose stiffening penalties for those who buy guns illegally, for those who use guns on school property and for those who engage in violent and serious drug-related gang activity. This is a noble stance, but I wonder how effective it will be, on our big-city streets, where lawlessness already prevails. Fear of additional jail time will not deter someone who courts death, one drug deal at a time.

He also spoke of a plan to standardize gun licensing procedures statewide, “to ensure that appropriate checks can be run to bar convicted felons and other prohibited people from possessing firearms.” This also sounds worthwhile, but I just hope it does not create another layer of bureaucracy that cannot get out of its own way.

Cuomo said he will also propose measures to ensure that, when a mental health professional determines a firearm owner is likely to engage in conduct that would result in serious harm to his or herself or others, “that risk may be reported and the gun removed by law enforcement authorities.”

The outcome of this process is also laudable, but it may not hold water, if we cannot identify and catch those who own guns illegally or use them, when committing a crime. Think of how many times we have heard the description of a shooter include the phrase “He mostly kept to himself.”

Cuomo said he realizes that he cannot offend law-abiding citizens who own guns for sport and protection. Unfortunately, they are not the ones who are adept at armed robbery.

These Cuomo initiatives are as timely as they are somewhat soothing, drawing upon the fears of everyday citizens, while not challenging the right to bear arms. This is a tightrope few want to walk. It comes as no surprise that taking this risky step can be seen as an early attempt to measure how the voting public – at least in New York state – views Cuomo, a lifelong politician.

Perhaps walking the gun control tightrope will lead him to the brass ring that always seemed just out of his father’s reach.

David Sherman is managing editor of Bee Group Newspapers and a columnist for the Weekly Independent Newspapers of Western New York, a group of community newspapers with a combined circulation of 286,500 readers. He is a past president of the Williamsville Volunteer Fire Department. Opinions expressed here are those of the author. He can be reached at dsherman@beenews.com.
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