U.S. District Judge William M. Skretny of Buffalo has issued what looks like a sensible and well-reasoned decision upholding key parts of New York’s SAFE Act, while dismissing others. It would count as a victory for public safety and common sense if the ruling were to stand, but both sides seem likely to appeal.
In a case watched around the country, Skretny ruled late last month that the 2012 gun control act largely withstands constitutional scrutiny. While finding that “so-called ‘assault weapons’ and large-capacity magazines” may be in common use – a legal benchmark for constitutionality – the state’s regulation of those weapons is related to the important governmental interest of public safety. Thus, he said, those portions of the law do not violate the Second Amendment to the Constitution.
Skretny did throw out the “tenuous, strained and unsupported” part of the law that allowed no more than seven rounds to be loaded into a maximum 10-round clip. It was a good ruling regarding an all-but-unenforceable aspect of the law. He also ruled the law’s regulation of pistols that are automatic weapons to be unconstitutional.
Opponents of the law, predictably, say they will appeal, though their opinion seems mainly to be an unmoored belief that the Second Amendment permits no regulation of any firearms, anytime, anyhow. It’s patently untrue, as even Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia has observed, but that doesn’t stop their daydreaming.
All rights have limits, sometimes when they conflict with other rights. Thus, freedom of speech doesn’t allow someone to yell “Fire!” in a crowded theater. Freedom of the press doesn’t allow publications to print child pornography or blatant lies that libel people. Freedom of religion doesn’t allow for use of illegal drugs.
It’s never a question of whether there are limits, only of where the limits should be drawn. Even most Second Amendment supporters don’t clamor for the right to own hand grenades, so even there, there is tacit acknowledgment of a limit.
Yet, they defend the ownership of assault weapons, which Rochester Police Chief James M. Sheppard, in a brief written for Skretny, concluded “are designed for one purpose – to efficiently kill numerous people.”
Defenders of the law are likely to appeal, as well, over Skretny’s objections to parts of the law. Either way, this case was heading to the Supreme Court, and we hope when it gets there, it accepts the case. The country still needs clarity, not on the well-established fact that gun control can be compatible with the Second Amendment, but on where the line should be drawn.
If it can’t be drawn at weapons whose only purpose is the efficient extermination of large numbers of people, then something is amiss.