Originally written at Binghamton Political Buzz Examiner.com by Michael “Vass” Vasquez on March 21, 2016
There is no dispute that the question of reducing gun violence deaths is a universal concern that crosses all political party lines. There is no one that seeks to allow gun violence, or ignore effective legislation that can benefit local communities and the nation. Yet, at the same time, the emotional need to increase our safety must be balanced with the reality of what works versus what just allows the public to sleep with the false belief of safety. Thus the subject of firearm storage is hitting New York State and national news after Monroe County Legislator Ernest Flagler-Mitchell introduced the Safe Firearm Storage Act on March 19, 2016.
While the Monroe County legislation shares the name with the NY Assembly Bill S03719, which was introduced in February 2015, it is not the same proposed law. The State Assembly Bill’s requirements are:
“Requires the safe storage of all guns, either in a safe or with a locking device, and provides penalties for simple and complex violations (removal from premises, injury or death results).”
It also requires that no firearm can be sold or transferred without proof of such safe storage and presentation of a disclaimer noting the penalty for failure to abide by the law. The proposed legislation appears to be an after-the-fact legislation. It would be applied to individuals only in the case that an act of gun violence has already occurred.
The Bill proposed by Legislator Flagler-Mitchell is far more vague. In the document submitted by Legislator Flagler-Mitchell, the only clear statement of what would be required in the County is:
“We have leash laws for dog owners and storage and handling requirements for industries that work with hazardous materials. We merely propose extending similar requirements to firearms.”
It is given that the goal of both proposals is a reduction in gun violence. The question that must be asked is if either in fact would deter gun violence in any manner. This is ultimately the guideline of any legislation, can it do what it proposes or is it just an attempt to (even unintentionally) misguide the public and promote a political agenda.
What is immediately in question is enforcement. How will these proposals be enforced if enacted. Neither addresses, to any degree, how authorities are to implement the law – except in the case of after-the-fact. But if the Bills are only effective punitively, it does little to promote prevention.
But neither proposal clearly negates proactive action, nor guarantees after-the-fact enforcement. Is it possible that police could enter a home to verify the capitulation to the legislation? Would that require a search warrant or could law enforcement just enter a home? What if a tip alleging a violation occurred, would police be required to enter the home under the direction of safety of those in the household? Even if that household contains just one single individual?
In fact, it can be said that such legislation is pouring salt in the wounds of some affected. Consider the sad loss of a family where a family member has used a firearm to commit suicide. There is no way to prove that the weapon was secured according to the outline of the proposals, and thus punitive action may be taken, adding to the burden of that family. Equally, if a firearm is sold, and then used in an act of gun violence, there is no way to prove if the guidelines were followed and thus the seller would be punished for actions they could be completely unaware of.
As these examples show the proposals cannot proactively prevent violation to any degree that can be more than arbitrarily confirmed. The proposals become a means of punishment for those owning firearms. This may not be the intention of the legislation, but the effective use of the proposals is the true question. Especially in a political climate – found in New York State under Gov. Andrew Cuomo – that can be considered less than gun ownership friendly.
Still there is another reason for pause. As stated by Legislator Flagler-Mitchell, the reason for Monroe County to take up this proposal is because it is already in effect elsewhere. Albany, NYC, and other locations are cited as having similar legislation in place already.
“Monroe County should join a growing list of governments, including the State of Massachusetts, the Cities of Rochester, New York, and Albany, and Westchester County, in requiring gun owners to keep their weapons locked up when they are not in their immediate possession or control.”
How effective have the legislations been in New York State? According to the March 7, 2016 report from New York State Gun Involved Violence Elimination (GIVE) Initiative the following data is noted:
- Statewide – Murder, committed with a firearm, increased 5.9% in the 2015 vs. 2016 monthly comparison with an increase of 42.9% over 5 years.
- Shooting Incidents Involving Injury increased 68.9% month vs. month, and 42.3% over 5 years
- Shooting Victims (Persons Hit) increased 68.0% month vs. month, and 38.6% over 5 years
- Individuals Killed by Gun Violence no monthly comparison data provided though there were 7 in 2015 and 9 in 2016 (an increase of 29%), and decreased -5.1% over 5 years
According to the data from NY State itself, it would seem that the proposed legislation is ineffective. But this data includes areas where this firearm storage laws were not in effect. Looking specifically at Albany and Rochester we see:
- Albany – no change in the monthly data 2015 vs. 2016 (0 murders each), and 0% change in 5 year figures for Murder, committed with a firearm (3 murders each).
- Shooting Incidents Involving Injury were 1 in 2015 vs. 2 in 2016 (no percentage given though 100% increase), and down -11.4% in 5 years
- Shooting Victims (Persons Hit) 1 in 2015 vs. 2 in 2016 (no percentage given though 100% increase), and a reduction of -8.2% in 5 years.
- Individuals Killed by Gun Violence had 0 monthly figures with no reported change (3.2 5 years average versus 3 in 2015)
- Rochester – no change in the monthly data 2015 vs. 2016 (2 murders each), and 0% change in 5 year figures for Murder, committed with a firearm (2 murders each).
- Shooting Incidents Involving Injury decreased -18.8% month vs. month, and increased 13.7% over 5 years
- Shooting Victims (Persons Hit) decreased -5.6% month vs. month, and increased 18.7% over 5 years
- Individuals Killed by Gun Violence remained flat at 2 month vs. month with, and decreased -3.2% over 5 years.
Without emotion what we see is that while the concept is attractive, there is no substantive improvement. If anything, with the firearm storage legislation in place, there were trends to overall increases in gun violence crimes and usage. It would be equally absurd to blame such increases on the existence of firearm storage laws as to say any decrease was caused by it. This goes without mentioning that 18 U.S.C. § 922(z)(1) already exists to secure firearms that are sold.
In the end we are left with a reality that defies emotion and good intentions. While the concept of creating laws forcing the public to securely store firearms is palatable, it has no perceptible impact. Likely because responsible gun owners already take precautions without need of government intervention. As Legislator Flagler-Mitchell stated,
“For many responsible gun owners, this law won’t even affect them. They won’t even know the difference because they’re already doing it.”
But as the figures from New York State show, criminals are not affected in any meaningful way. Again as Legislator Flagler-Mitchell cited the City of Rochester is on track to have no true change. Regardless of whether a firearm is secured, suicides and stolen weapons have not been affected by the law being in place. Without proactive action by authorities to ensure compliance this legislation is just feel-good fluff that is ineffective at its stated goal. But such proactive enforcement raises questions of 4th Amendment violations and punishment for gun ownership.
Perhaps the Assembly Bill S03719 and the Monroe County proposal are on the path to a solution that can help the public be more safe and secure. But as written, both proposals appear to provide no reason to believe that there would be improvement beyond the desire of 2nd Amendment.