[author: Aaron Kase]
In the wake of a rash of rampage-style mass shootings, several states are considering tightening up their gun laws, making it more difficult to purchase firearms and limiting what kinds of guns are available. California, New York and Illinois are all considering measures that would strengthen what are already among the most restrictive gun climates in the nation.
This summer alone gave us the Aurora theater massacre in Colorado and the Sikh temple rampage in Wisconsin, along with ongoing chronic violence in big cities and threats of school shootings. Mass murders have become annual events, with 50 “rampage” style killings in the last 25 years, 82 percent of which involved legally obtained firearms.
The federal government is, for all intents and purposes, mum on the subject of how gun access might affect homicide rates in the country. Many gun rights advocates insist that the solution to high violence levels is to increase the amount of people owning firearms, so that law-abiding citizens might shoot would-be criminals without having to rely on the police. However, at least three states are taking the opposite tack with potential laws that would further restrict civilian access to firearms:
Among a number of measures, California is considering legislation that would require owners to report a lost or stolen gun, require dealers to report large ammunition sales to law enforcement and ban open carry on long guns. The state also has a proposed measure that would outlaw conversion kits that allow for faster reloading on certain firearms.
Illinois Governor Pat Quinn wants to implement an outright ban on assault weapons like the AK-47. It is unclear if the legislature will accept his plan, which he is attempting to attach to an unrelated ammunition sale measure.
In New York, proposed laws would limit people to one gun purchase per month, and require a background check for ammo purchases. The one-per-month limit is considered a way to combat straw purchasing, in which one person legally buys guns, only to turn around and sell them illegally to people who couldn’t otherwise buy them.
Already Strong Gun Laws
Martin D. Kane
By various rankings, California, Illinois and New York are all already considered among the top ten states with the strongest gun laws. Obviously, the political climate is different than in other states that would never consider any measures to make gun access more restricted. However, the correlation begs the question — is it effective to bring more rules in places that already have strong laws on the books?
One attorney in New York who has been defending gun cases for 40 years doesn’t see a benefit. “I’ve never had a case involving a person with a licensed handgun,” says Martin D. Kane, who practices criminal law in New York City. “When you’re talking about stricter requirements, longer waiting periods and such, I don’t see how that would have any effect in New York City. It may be totally different upstate.”
“The problem in New York City is guns being brought in from outside the city,” he says, citing a large firearm trade that stems from southern states like Virginia. “I don’t think these proposed laws will have anything to do with the problem.”
Gun laws are already so strict, Kane says, that any reasonable person would already be deterred from breaking them. “You can be an upstanding citizen, but if you’re caught in a situation with a handgun that’s not licensed in New York, that statute says you have a minimum [sentence] of 3 ½ years, and up to 15 years. Once someone is indicted, the lowest it can be plea bargained is down to 2 years.”
Witness the case of Plaxico Burress, a former star receiver for the New York Giants. Burress was sentenced in 2009 to two years at Rikers Island for illegal gun possession after he accidentally shot himself in the leg at a New York City night club.
“It’s kind of tough to make the situation better by making those laws any stricter than they already are,” says Kane. “Anybody with any sense is going to scared off just by the knowledge they’re going to get that severe a jail sentence.”