Liberal Column

It’s hard to say if the SAFE Act is reducing gun violence, but that’s not reason to repeal it

New York state Sen. Rob Ortt (R-North Tonawanda) is leading a movement to repeal the New York SAFE Act, which aims to decrease gun violence in the state. The act has drawn backlash from gun rights advocates, who argue that the bill oversteps its bounds and that criminals will get their hands on guns regardless of the law.

But despite this controversy and the difficulty of determining how effective the act has been, the SAFE Act is still the most progressive piece of gun legislation in the country, and shouldn’t be repealed.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed into law the Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act in January 2013 in response to the Sandy Hook Massacre. In a sweepingly bipartisan vote, the SAFE Act became one of the most restrictive pieces of gun legislation ever enacted, with Cuomo himself calling the bill “the toughest assault weapon ban in the nation, period,” according to ABC News.

The SAFE Act has a wide scope. It requires gun and ammunition dealers to perform background checks, stipulates that therapists must report possibly threatening clients to the state’s Division of Criminal Justice Services, calls for the creation of a registry of assault weapons and puts a hard cap on the capacity of magazines, according to NBC News. A magazine may be able to hold up to 10 rounds, but cannot be loaded with more than seven bullets at a time. The SAFE Act also tightens the definition of an assault weapon.

Gun rights advocates, including Ortt, believe that the SAFE Act infringes upon the rights of legal gun owners, and that criminals will get guns from illegal backchannels, regardless of the law. Ortt’s bill, which is currently in senate committee, would repeal the SAFE Act everywhere in the state except the five boroughs of New York City.

“It infringed upon constitutional rights, made criminals out of law-abiding sportsmen, and did nothing to protect our children, families, or communities,” Ortt’s office said in an email.

On the surface, Ortt’s claim seems to be supported by the homicide rate in Syracuse. The city’s 31 homicides in 2016 represent the largest number of homicides in its recorded history.

But Grant Reeher, a professor of political science at Syracuse University, argues that Syracuse’s high homicide rate does not back up Ortt’s claim. City homicides are, for the most part, driven by the use of handguns, Reeher said. He added that the SAFE Act did not directly address that issue, and that a repeal of the act would be unlikely due to the Democratic majority in the New York State Assembly.

“There are too many moving parts in explaining the city’s homicide rate to tie it to the SAFE Act, one way or another,” Reeher said in an email.

A look at the evidence supports Reeher’s argument. Of the 31 homicides that occurred in Syracuse last year, only 19 involved firearms, and most of those were committed with handguns, according to articles on Syracuse.com.

Although it’s difficult to tie the SAFE Act to homicides in larger cities, the number of homicides statewide has steadily declined over the past 10 years, dropping from 5.3 firearm-related deaths per 100,000 people in 2005 to 4.2 per 100,000 in 2015, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That might sound like an incremental decrease, but it represents a factor of 170 fewer people dying due to gun violence per year.

This seems to suggest that last year’s homicide spike in Syracuse was an outlier in the wider scope of the state, and that the SAFE Act, though heavily restrictive, might actually be working. While it’s difficult to say whether the SAFE Act is helping to decrease gun violence, its intention is nonetheless a worthy cause, justifying its place in New York state.

Ryan Dunn is a freshman history major. His column appears weekly. He can be reached at rarozenb@syr.edu.

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