Memo to the governor: This isn't going away.
In a nation founded with guns to oppose government tyranny, it shouldn't surprise anyone that shooters won't let Gov. Andrew Cuomo's gun-control power play fade from the spotlight. Tuesday's rally in Albany and another slated for Feb. 28 prove that the issue has legs.
So does his drop in a poll after the law was rammed through using emergency provisions to prevent debate.
Put aside for a moment the irony of the governor now saying a law passed in secret will become more popular once people know more about it.
With other bills, that might be true. But in this case, the more the public learns what a semiautomatic gun is – and what it isn't – I'm betting the less likely they are to think Cuomo made a reasoned decision, rather than a political one. Take the bill's centerpiece, its ban on future sales of “assault weapons.” Are the guns more dangerous because they're more compact, maneuverable and easily concealable? Perhaps. Except that they're not.
The Browning BAR ShortTrac semiautomatic, which looks like a traditional hunting rifle, is 41½ inches long and weighs 6.1 pounds. Yet the Armalite AR-10 A2, which looks like an “assault weapon” with its external magazine and pistol grip, is actually longer and heavier. This means that if Cuomo was concerned about a rifle being smaller, more maneuverable and easier to hide, he banned the wrong one.
In fact, any argument based on size is as fatuous as one based on functionality, since all semiautomatics function essentially the same – each trigger pull fires one round.
Pressed on what makes the targeted guns more dangerous, the law's backers point to collapsible stocks – which could aid concealability, but which also make the size adjustable when teaching a son or daughter to shoot – and the pistol grip, which they say aids stability and accuracy when firing multiple rounds quickly. That's why, they say, most military rifles have pistol grips.
“Oh, for crying out loud!” retorts Lancaster's Harold “Budd” Schroeder, chairman of the Shooters Committee on Political Education, or SCOPE.
Stability and accuracy come mostly from bracing a rifle against your shoulder, as competitive shooters do. As for a crazed killer, “he's going to pray and spray, anyway,” Schroeder notes.
But even if you acknowledge the gun-banners' point, it's the kind of debate we should have had openly, with opponents able to make their case and even demonstrate it on the range. The fact that the Cuomo administration didn't want that debate undermines its credibility and makes me think it was banking on the one point that's not debatable: “Assault weapons” look scarier.
Maybe that's a reason to ban them. Maybe looks are why crazed mass shooters gravitate toward those weapons, even though they account for a tiny fraction of gun deaths.
But if that's the case, it's a stronger argument for banning Hollywood's glamorization of such weapons than for banning the guns themselves.
That's why the protest rallies and lawsuits will continue, and why support will continue to erode the more the public learns about parts of the law.
Cuomo is smart enough to know that; the stealth tactic used to pass the bill proves it. That alone is reason enough to scrap it and start over.