Op-Ed: N.Y. Passes Gun Law, But Washington Does Nothing

Op-Ed Published in the Journal News

By Eric T. Schneiderman

 

It’s been over three months since the horrific elementary school massacre in Newtown. In that time, over 2,800 more Americans have been killed by guns. That means three months of delay and thousands of grieving families.

But in Washington the “headline number” is zero; that’s how many bills have been signed into law since the Newtown tragedy to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and the dangerously mentally ill.

Instead of passing common sense measures like universal background checks — which one poll shows are supported by more than 90 percent of Americans — Washington is bogged down in the petty divisiveness and special interest lobbying that consistently stand in the way of progress.

The gun control debate doesn’t need to be dominated by rancor. Everyone deserves to live in a safe neighborhood, free from the threat of gun violence, which is why my office isn’t waiting to take action.

When I took office two years ago, we started investigating private sellers of guns at gun shows to determine whether they were complying with the state’s background check law. What we found was deeply disturbing.

Even when undercover investigators told gun sellers that they could not pass a background check because of an order of protection against them, the sellers volunteered to sell them guns without a background check. This is a clear violation of state law, and my office brought charges against the individual sellers. But that is only part of the solution.

We also worked together with gun show operators to develop new Model Gun Show Procedures that balance the rights of the sportsmen and gun collectors with the need to protect the public from the sale of guns to people who cannot pass a background check.

We’ve now reached agreements with more than two dozen of the largest gun show operators in New York — representing over 80 percent of the gun shows in the state. These voluntary agreements will ensure that background checks are conducted for every firearm sold at those gun shows. Among these was Westchester Collectors, based in Mahopac Falls, which operates gun shows in the Lower Hudson Valley.

The cooperation of the gun show operators is essential. While the law requires individual sellers to conduct background checks, operators control the entrances and exits to the shows, so they are in a position to ensure that the law is enforced. Our model procedures require that all firearms brought into a gun show by private sellers are tagged so that, upon exiting, the operator can determine if a proper background check was performed on every gun sold.

This tagging system, and other increased security measures, closes off a significant loophole that felons and other dangerous individuals use to avoid background checks and obtain guns.

These procedures have already been implemented at gun shows around the state and operators reported that the shows went off without a hitch.

This spirit of cooperation is a refreshing departure from the polarized debate around the country and even here in New York, where common sense provisions in the New York SAFE Act have provoked heated opposition.

In traveling across the state, I have found that most people who operate gun shows are responsible, law-abiding citizens who are eager to find cooperative solutions to keep guns out of the wrong hands. Background checks are an essential tool to do that, which is why I am hopeful that the procedures we’ve developed in New York will serve as a model of cooperation between law enforcement and gun show operators that the rest of the nation can follow.

We must continue to demand action from Washington. But, in the meantime, I’m proud that in New York we’ve made concrete progress on stopping illegal gun sales. As your attorney general, I will continue to work with all responsible parties to make our state safer and stronger.

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