As quickly as the two sides change positions, you’d think it would be a lot easier to find common ground in the gun debate.
After a community anti-violence activist violated the controversial SAFE Act last week by unwittingly carrying his concealed handgun into Harvey Austin School, it was as if the saga were an episode of “Trading Places.”
SAFE Act critics, who might normally be expected to rally around any otherwise law-abiding person carrying a gun for self-defense, were instead taking to the Web to urge that Dwayne Ferguson have the book thrown at him. His fellow gun-toters denounced him as a hypocrite who should be hoisted on his own liberal petard for backing gun control while exercising the right to carry – as if the two have to be mutually exclusive. They want him pilloried for violating the very law they consider foolish and unjust.
His defenders in the anti-violence movement, on the other hand, note that the armed Ferguson could have been an asset to police had there been a gunman in the school who meant to hurt students or staff. That rationale sounds strikingly similar to the National Rifle Association argument that “the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”
Somewhere within the shifting stances, gun rights defenders and the activists who deal daily with the carnage guns cause might actually find themselves in the same place.
For instance, if extremists on either side could be muzzled, they might agree that gun restrictions should be based on functionality, not superficial features such as those in the SAFE Act. That gun owners should pass a quick background check, not one that takes months like New York State’s. And that violating laws should have consequences, which gun rights advocates constantly repeat in saying government doesn’t need new gun laws, it just needs to enforce the ones now on the books.
Which brings us back to Ferguson, the president of MAD DADS and – until last week’s incident – a principal in the Buffalo Peacemakers coalition working to stop violence and steer young people in other directions. The coalition’s protocols prohibit members from being armed while carrying out its mission or from being criminals. Ferguson – who was at the school in a separate mentoring program – has been suspended from Peacemakers until his case is resolved.
What should the resolution be?
According to District Attorney Frank Sedita III, if Ferguson’s permit matches the gun, carrying it at school would be a Class E felony – the SAFE Act hiked it from a misdemeanor – punishable by anything from conditional discharge to probation to up to four years in prison, if the case gets that far.
Given what’s publicly known about Ferguson, it shouldn’t. Still, the kids he works with need to see that actions – even mistakes – have consequences.
Give him community service, beyond what he already does, helping the parents and kids traumatized by the four-hour lockdown while police searched for the “gunman.” Have him cough up a few bucks – gun rights advocates could even kick in – to help reimburse the city for the time that personnel wasted on a false alarm.
Then let him get back to what he does best – helping young people, while also being the new poster boy for the fact that gun rights and gun laws don’t have to be as mutually exclusive as both extremes try to make them.