It’s Only New York, But The NRA Better Not Ignore A New Voter Poll About Guns.

This week New Yorkers Against Gun Violence released a survey they commissioned of 600+ registered voters in New York State.  It’s part of an effort to promote new legislation that seeks to add additional safety measures to the SAFE law, which provoked lots of ire on the pro-gun side when Andy crashed it through the legislature shortly after Sandy Hook. The campaign is focused on a safe storage act known as Nicholas’s Law, named after a twelve-year old whose friend shot and killed him with an unlocked gun.

According to the NYAGV press release, the survey shows strong majority support for a wide range of gun-control issues beyond safe storage, including seizing guns from persons convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence, microstamping of firearms sold in New York State, increased regulation  of dealers and limiting gun purchases to one every month.  With the exception of the last provision, a majority of gun owners also backed all the proposals, albeit by smaller margins of course.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo

Gov. Andrew Cuomo

Along with the specific gun-control proposals, the survey also asked both gun owners and non-gun owners about general attitudes toward the regulation of firearms.  Here again, both groups agreed that gun violence was a serious problem and that government had the right to set “reasonable”  regulations on gun ownership and gun use.

I am not surprised by these survey results, for the simple reason that New York is not a particularly gun-rich state.  And even though gun owners are probably in the majority in upstate, rural counties, if you conduct a survey in which respondents reflect percentages of New York State’s population living in large cities and suburban zones, you’re going to get most of your answers from people who, even if they own firearms, certainly don’t have the degree of enthusiasm or loyalty to the gun culture that you find in the South or rural parts of the Midwest.

That being said, when I looked at the cross-tabs for every question which break down responses by age, gender and race, the results of this survey raised some serious doubts in my mind as to what the future of gun ownership is really going to be.  Because what was interesting about the cross-tab responses was the degree to which for virtually every question, the groups that the gun folks have been trying hardest to persuade to join their ranks are exactly the groups who appear to be least interested in owning or, to put it bluntly, having anything to do with guns.

For example, in answer to this statement, “Having a gun in the home makes the occupants of that home safer,” a slightly majority (52%) disagreed.  This runs contrary to recent polls which show that a slight majority nationwide would agree.  But in New York nearly two-thirds of the female respondents disagreed, as did the Black and Latino respondents, as did the respondents ages 18 to 34.  As to whether to support reasonable gun regulations, roughly three-quarters of Blacks, Latinos and women agreed with this statement, but for the 18-34 age group the number was a whopping 82 percent!

Again, it needs to be remembered that these numbers would be different In states where most people own guns.  But I don’t think the gun folks should just write these numbers off because everyone knows that New Yorkers  don’t like guns.  Marketing campaigns to the contrary, women and minorities still don’t appear enamored of guns. Moreover, the fact that younger respondents exhibited the highest degree of approval for gun control and the lowest degree of support for the notion that guns protect us from crime tells me that the NRA and the pro-gun community may not be reaching the next generation of gun owners with a message that really works.  But that still leaves open the question of whether the other side can double down on the views of women, minorities and millennials to advance their agendas in gun-rich states.  New York ain’t exactly Dixie, right?

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What Does New York’s Safe Act Really Mean?

Last week a Federal judge in New York rendered the first decision on New York’s new gun law, the Safe Act,  that was rammed through the Legislature by Andy Cuomo on the heels of the massacre at Sandy Hook.  New York’s new law effectively bans the sale of AR-style rifles to state residents and also set semi-auto magazine limits at a maximum of seven rounds. Judge William Skretny, appointed by Bush 41, is known as a careful, almost scholarly reviewer of legal texts, and in this instance he went to great lengths to analyze the pros and cons of the new law.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo

Gov. Andrew Cuomo

Basically his decision contained both good news and bad news for gun owners in New York.  The good news is that Judge Skretny invalidated the 7-round magazine capacity as being ‘arbitrary’ and not shown to really protect public safety as New York State claimed. The bad news is that he also found that the ability of the State to deny access to certain types of weapons did not undermine the 2nd Amendment guarantees of self-protection and was consistent with “the state’s important interest in public safety.”

As more and more gun cases pile up in what Judge Skretny calls the “terra incognita” of post-Heller jurisprudence, the trend seems to be moving towards a recognition of the government’s ability to regulate and even ban certain types of weapons (most notably ‘assault’ rifles) as long as such measures do not deny access to other types of weapons that are commonly used for self defense.  Ironically, the claim by the NRA and its friends that high-capacity, semi-automatic rifles afford the greatest degree of self protection is being turned against them by multiple Court decisions which find that the defensive utility of these guns based on their lethality is exactly what justifies their regulation given the public safety responsibilities vested in the state.

The NRA has spent the last thirty years noisily promoting the notion that an armed citizenry is our most effective method of dealing with crime.  And if nothing else, the coincidence of increased gun sales and a decline in violent crime over the past 20 years would seem to bolster their case. The NRA further argues that banning ‘assault’ rifles is a red herring because even though such weapons are used on rare occasions for mass assaults, like Aurora, the overwhelming bulk of shootings involves handguns as the weapon of choice.

Which was exactly the point made by Judge Skretny and other jurists who have been hearing gun cases since Heller was decided in 2008.  The fact that AR-15 rifles are touted by the NRA and the manufacturers as more effective self-defense weapons than handguns is exactly why the government may be able to ban them while leaving 2nd Amendment guarantees intact.  The dangerousness of guns can be played both ways, because the fact that high-capacity, military-style weapons are used in only a few instances of gun violence doesn’t invalidate the government’s right to keep them out of everyone’s hands, particularly if citizens can still own other weapons, like handguns, that provide a reliable means for self defense.

In their raptures over Heller the pro-gun lobby conveniently ignored the majority decision’s explicit statement that the 2nd Amendment was not an unlimited “right.”  Instead, the author of the Heller decision, Antonin Scalia, made it clear that further judicial activity would have to take place in order to more clearly define the degree to which government could limit access to guns.  If the New York and other recent decisions are straws in the wind, nobody at the NRA headquarters should assume that unlimited gun ownership will continue into the future; in fact it may soon become a legal doctrine whose best days have already passed.