By Karen Rubin, News-Photos-Features.com
New York State, already with the toughest gun control laws in the nation, is taking on ghost guns with laws that the state hopes will be a model for the nation.
But the new laws – as well as all New York’s gun control laws – are in jeopardy of being overturned by the Supreme Court, which shows no sensitivity at all to the fact that “guns-everywhere” are becoming a weapon to attack First Amendment rights of free speech, free assembly, protest, as right wing extremists are increasingly calling for “Second Amendment” solutions.
Governor Kathy Hochul came to the “Yes We Can” community center in Westbury, Long Island, last week to sign two laws that address ghost guns by requiring all parts and guns to be serialized and registered and a third law that prohibits “disguise guns” – that is, guns that are made to look like toys so they can be concealed.
Ghost guns are unserialized, untraceable firearms that can be purchased online without a background check. During the COVID-19 pandemic, sales of these dangerous weapons surged around the country, even as gun homicides hit new heights.
The laws Hochul signed enacted will go a long way to keeping these guns off New York’s streets, including an emotional signing of the Scott J. Beigel Unfinished Receivers Act, named for the hero teacher of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. It bans the sale and possession of “unfinished receivers” that can easily be built into an AR-15, which she signed with Scott’s mother, gun sense activist Linda Beigel Schulman, at her side.
The second law, the Jose Webster Untraceable Firearms Act, named for a 16-year-old New Yorker who was shot dead on his neighborhood street, bans the sale and possession of ghost guns and requires all guns to be serialized so law enforcement can trace their sale.
It is a slap against Congress’ paralysis in taking any action whatsoever to address epidemic gun violence despite such horrors as Sandy Hook, Charleston, Las Vegas, Parkland (a list too long to recite) and record number of gun homicides in 2020, 19,379, despite an actual reduction in mass shootings (because people weren’t massing during COVID).
In face of an epidemic of gun violence, sensible gun regulation is a public health issue – as Governor Hochul said, signing the law before a crowd of activists who have been fighting for sensible gun regulation for years, “My Number One job is protecting society.”
But regulating guns also has become a matter of protecting civil rights against a weapon being promoted to suppress free speech, free assembly, protest, and even voting, as you have rising domestic terrorism – even based inside the Capitol – and calls by such figures as Trump, Marjorie Taylor Greene and Matt Gaetz (and why are they still in Congress?) for “1776 solutions” to fabricated, imagined “tyranny.” “This is our moment,” she said.
Gaetz, on his “America First” tour, declared, “We have the Second Amendment in this country and I think we have an obligation to use it.” He suggested the Second Amendment intended for people to have the ability to form an “armed rebellion against the government” when necessary. Clearly, his candidate being defeated for President by 7 million votes justified, in his mind, an armed rebellion.
Kyle Rittenhouse is now on trial in Kenosha, Wisconsin, for murdering two Black Lives Matter protesters and injuring a third using a gun it was illegal for him to possess at age 17. He was motivated to leave his home in Illinois to cross the border because he claims to have felt “called” to protect Kenosha from rioters, looters, arsonists. but the Judge Bruce Schroeder, paving the way for acquittal, has said the Prosecution cannot refer to the victims of his crime as “victims” but the defense can refer to them as “arsonists” “rioters” and “looters” – even though they were engaged in a peaceful protest of the police shooting of Jacob Blake just months after George Floyd was killed; no looting or arson or rioting) - they were not accused, charged, let alone prosecuted for criminal activity. It’s like saying in a rape case that the woman cannot be referred to as a “victim” but only as a “slut”.
Patricia and Mark McCloskey of St. Louis, MO, who brandished guns at peaceful Black Lives Protesters, pled guilty to misdemeanors. Trump attacked the prosecution as “abuse of power” and they were pardoned by Missouri Governor Mike Parson. The McCloskeys claimed they were afraid for their lives, as the marchers walked passed their house.
And let’s not forget the “Stand Your Ground” laws that the Koch-funded ALEC instituted in many states that basically incentivizes murder so you can claim “self-defense” (except when you are a Black woman fending off a violent, abusive husband by shooting a warning shot into the ceiling – then you go to prison). Theoretically, if those Kenosha protesters had been carrying guns, themselves, and shot Kyle Rittenhouse dead, they would have been on safer ground to argue Stand Your Ground self-defense. Because Rittenhouse killed his victims, he is the one claiming self-defense.
Now these people are suing for the “right” to take their guns into voting places, even as the Trumpers are recruiting an “army” to “defend” against imagined voter fraud (they claim they need the guns in polling places for “self-defense”), with the specter of January 6 “solutions” still raw. Can you imagine people standing at the entrance, strapped with AK15s, or armed “poll watchers” standing over people as they mark their ballots?
As one woman said, she used to take her child to a protest, but now would be afraid.
Trump opened the floodgates to political murders – he wanted his border patrol to shoot asylum-seekers as they came across the border; called for shooting protesters (and mandating 10 years prison if they defaced a Confederate monument) and cheered when marshals shot dead a Portland protester who was accused (not prosecuted or tried) of killing a White Nationalist (if ever there was a case of Stand Your Ground, that was it), rather than make any attempt to arrest him.
It is no coincidence that hate crimes and gun violence hit new peaks under Trump. Last year, the FBI reported the highest number of hate crimes in over 20 years - 8,052 single-bias incidents — crimes motivated by one type of bias like racism — involving 11,126 victims (yes, I know, Trump didn’t invent bigotry, xenophobia, racism, misogyny, he only normalized, and facilitated violent expression of it), despite the pandemic – he fostered an atmosphere of hate and violence and brought once fringe extremists from the shadows into the mainstream and made them feel justified and validated. That the White Nationalist Christo Fascist extremists believe violence – including gun violence – is a valid tool of “patriotic” activism.
Hochul signed the ghost gun laws mere days before the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen challenging New York State’s ability to restrict concealed carry to those who show a need to carry a gun for their self-defense.
The association – and gun rights fanatics - wants anyone to carry a gun – essentially, adopting the least restrictive gun regulation of gun-happy rural Red State America – so if you are riding on the Long Island Railroad, going into a synagogue, a school, a courthouse, you won’t know if some psycho has strapped that sucker on and decided to use all of you for target practice. Or if you want to attend a protest for voting rights, attend a town hall, or even go into a polling place, you have to be concerned if that partisan poll watcher is packing heat. It’s called intimidation.
“The last thing we need in our society today is for people to be able to carry a concealed gun to places where we know they can do harm,” Hochul said. “We've seen this in other states, people have gotten away with this and they've caused crimes, but not here, not in the State of New York. So we're hoping to win those cases.”
Following the oral arguments, Hochul said she’s proud that “New York is a national model for the strongest gun safety laws. “My hope is that the Supreme Court upholds our state’s common-sense law that requires ‘proper cause’ for issuing concealed carry pistol permits. Having more armed people in public places doesn’t make us any safer.”
Hochul added that she is “committed” to continue working to push for solutions that will “save lives, get guns off the streets, and help put an end to the gun violence epidemic.”
The New York case is the first major gun control case the Supreme Court takes up since 2010. In 2008, in District of Columbia v. Heller then in 2010, in McDonald v City of Chicago, the court gleefully changed 200 years of precedent to declare an “individual right” to carry a gun (dismissing entirely the 2nd Amendment’s reference to “well regulated” and “militia”) over a state or locality’s ability to protect its residents.
And while pretending to care about “the history and text” (the fact that there have been gun restrictions going back to colonial days) the justices also seem to ignore the fact that when the 2nd Amendment was signed, the majority of the nation’s 3,929,214 Americans lived in rural places where needing a gun for self defense and hunting food was a real necessity, and local militias were needed to defend the government (not revolt against it) in the absence of a National Guard or standing army, instead of most of America’s 329 million living today in crowded urban areas, or that guns in 1791 were single-ball muskets, not AR15s or ghost guns capable of firing hundreds of rounds in a minute.
Now the Supreme Court, emboldened with a 6-3 radically right wing court (three of whom appointed by an illegitimate President and confirmed with illegitimate tactics) that has proved itself ready and willing to overturn centuries of precedent, may well threaten New York and any state’s ability to regulate guns – elevating the Second Amendment above the First Amendment’s protections of Free Speech, Free Press, Free Assembly and to ‘petition” your government.
It is interesting to see how inconsistently the Supreme Court’s “conservatives” give deference to states rights – like in the Texas SB 8 abortion case – versus when they shoot down a state like New York trying to defend its citizens against COVID and gun violence, and even when they insist Congress should have a role (like in an upcoming case challenging the EPA’s and every federal agency’s authority to regulate anything, which is odd because the agencies are creatures of the Executive Branch) yet overturn legislation adopted by Congress, as the Supreme Court did when it threw out the reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act passed in 2006 by Congress (98-0 in the Senate) before invalidating key sections in 2013 and 2020.
In another irony, the justices seemed upset to require people go through “hoops” to show a need to carry a concealed weapon, which they assert is a Constitutional right – no other right requires approval. “The idea that you need a license to exercise the right, I think, is unusual in the context of the Bill of Rights,” Chief Justice Roberts said.
Really? They didn’t take that position with states gerrymandering voting rights away or putting up obstacles, like onerous Voter I.D. or limited access to the ballot, that make voting more of a “privilege” than a Constitutionally-protected right, or, for that matter, abortion rights, where women are forced to go through any number of hoops to exercise their Constitutional reproductive right. In fact, no right - not free speech, free press, religion – is completely unlimited. The rule of thumb is usually “your rights stop when they infringe on mine.” You are supposed to be prosecuted for inciting violence, for threatening violence to intimidate someone to do something. Gun violence would seem to fall in that category (and frankly, where is the instance of concealed carry actually being used for self defense?).
Indeed, the concern of Gorsuch, Kavanaugh and Barrett over Texas SB8 wasn’t that women’s lives would be upended by forcing women to bear children (notably refusing to stay SB8 while they deliberate), but that other states would use bounty-hunting vigilantes to go after gun owners.
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