Before the massacre at Newtown, Cuomo had an approval rating of 74–18. After he pushed the bill, it dropped to 59–28, still high but a dramatic drop. Among Republicans in the state, he moved from 68–18 to 44–43. Cuomo “was afraid of the public rising up — and the public has risen up,” New York Conservative-party chairman Mike Long says. “There are 52 counties that have introduced resolutions calling for repeal. There are 40 counties that have passed resolutions. Three weeks ago, citizens held the largest rally that ever took place in Albany: over 5,000 people.” By the time people took to the streets, a petition urging Cuomo to revisit the law had collected 83,000 signatures.
The legislation is subject to a legal challenge from the National Rifle Association’s New York affiliate, the New York State Rifle & Pistol Association. The group filed a federal lawsuit last week that challenges the constitutionality of the measure and requests an injunction. The suit claims that the limits on magazine capacity and the expansion of the “assault weapons” ban restricts the right of “law-abiding citizens to keep commonly possessed firearms in the home for defense of self and family and for other lawful purposes.” Not challenged by the lawsuit, but no less worrying to Second Amendment defenders, are the creation of a statewide gun registry (which usurps the local registries that previously obtained) and the requirement that gun owners undergo background checks through the New York NICS (National Instant Criminal Background Check System) in order to buy bullets — the first such rule in the country. Also unchallenged are the restrictions on existing weapons that prevent owners of grandfathered firearms from handing them down to their family members or selling them to neighbors or friends.
These provisions, it appears, were urgent, because the children deserved them. Provisions to secure classrooms, on the other hand, were not, and they have been delayed indefinitely, subject to the findings of a committee that has not yet been formed.
This is unsurprising. As Representative Kieran Lalor told the New York Daily News:
One of the bill’s sponsors was asked on the Assembly floor whether this law would have prevented the horrible murders of students and staff at Sandy Hook Elementary School. He answered, “No.” When some of his colleagues gasped at his honesty, he changed his answer to “Maybe.”
Practical questions remain. New York State has not yet indicated how it intends to process the 1 million guns that must be registered within the year. If the law is to be obeyed, 2,500 guns per day will need to be registered. There is currently no system in place to do this. The irony here is obvious: The state will rush to divert time, resources, and treasure in order to set up a system with which only the law-abiding will comply. More haste, less speed, the old saying has it.
Cuomo’s behavior has served primarily to illustrate the truism that a rushed law is a bad law. “Government,” as George Washington is supposed to have said, “is not reason, it is not eloquence — it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master; never for a moment should it be left to irresponsible action.” It is the role of leadership to inject as much reason as possible into the fire. The mob may call for blood — that is its prerogative — but leaders must demand that reaction be deferred. As governor, Cuomo has failed in his primary task, choosing instead to incite the crowd, and using the force of the state to indulge its clamor. New York is not safer for the passage of the SAFE Act, but it is a little more stupid. Next time we are told in urgent tones that “now is the time for action,” we might remember the fiasco in Albany — and ask politely for a hiatus.
— Charles C. W. Cooke is an editorial associate at National Review.