Dolman: New York won't back down in gun-control fight

A demonstrator from CodePink holds up a banner A demonstrator from CodePink holds up a banner as National Rifle Association Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre delivers remarks during a news conference at the Willard Hotel in Washington, DC. (Dec. 21, 2012) Photo Credit: Getty Images

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Joseph Dolman Portrait of Joseph Dolman, opinion writer at Newsday.

Dolman is a member of the editorial board who covers New York City. ...

No sooner did Andrew M. Cuomo wrap up his emotional plea last week for tighter restrictions on assault weapons and ammunition than the National Rifle Association rolled out the heavy bombast.

"America's most anti-gun governor hails from the same state as the nation's most anti-gun mayor," the NRA's Institute for Legislative Action fumed, referring to New York City's Michael Bloomberg.

"Exploiting tragedy," the NRA went on, "Cuomo's fiery State of the State speech . . . outlined a laundry list of recycled . . . gun control proposals that have failed across the country . . . and failed in New York."

But wait. They haven't failed.

Numbers from the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics show that violent crime nose-dived from 2002 to 2011 -- dropping 18.3 percent in the state and 19.8 percent in the city.

Last year, Bloomberg said, the city had "the lowest number of murders of any time in at least the past 50 years. We also had the fewest shootings of any time since comparable records began being kept."

While the state and city are still cursed with more than their share of murder and mayhem, attempts to reduce it have worked amazingly well. No one would have predicted such an outcome 20 years ago.

In fact, the state and city could not have achieved this success without vigorous enforcement of existing gun control laws.

Given that, it's reasonable to think that still tighter laws and still stronger law enforcement would make us safer yet.

Now it is true that, just as the NRA says, Cuomo's plans -- and presumably the agenda of Vice President Joe Biden, which is scheduled for release tomorrow -- could put a crimp in the activities of law-abiding folks who simply enjoy owning and shooting assault weapons.

But when public safety conflicts with inconveniences suffered by a few, public safety should win. It's common sense.

Tighter restrictions on guns and ammo would make it easier for police to arrest suspected criminals who have illegal weapons in their possession. Tighter laws would tell every criminal in the state that if you're packing illegal heat, you could quickly wind up whiling away time in jail.

The NRA broadside, of course, was a quick, red-meat pitch to the base, not a doctoral dissertation. In the wake of an in-your-face challenge from Cuomo and Bloomberg, the NRA wants to rally the faithful to pick up their phones and checkbooks and ride to the sounds of the battle.

Still, in a political fight this heated, the NRA would do the public a favor by at least sort of flirting with the truth.

Instead, in the wake of the Newtown, Conn., horror and the shootings upstate in Webster, the NRA has chosen to make a dark and dangerous appeal to one of our most primal instincts: fear.

In a world filled with evil, it is saying, we must always be ready to blow away evildoers before they blow us away. It's a nice prescription for anarchy.

But, you ask, what about our right to bear arms? What about the Second Amendment?

Well, yes. Americans have a right to own guns. But it's not absolute. The Supreme Court decides what is constitutional and what isn't. Twice since 2008 the court has said governments can't ban guns in the home, but it hasn't ruled out other forms of gun control.

So Cuomo and Bloomberg, among others, can plow ahead.

I'm eager to see what impact Bloomberg will have when he leaves City Hall next year. The NRA has always had lots of cash and political savvy, and it has always controlled the agenda. But Bloomberg has passion, money and smarts, and he has made gun control a signature issue. The NRA may have met its match.

Joseph Dolman was deputy editorial page editor for New York Newsday.

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