Anyone who pays attention knew when the state enacted the SAFE Act in January -- which gave New York some of the strictest gun control laws in the country -- vast numbers of people would be up in arms over the matter.
Naturally, folks in our area, especially those who own guns and the huge hunting community we have, believed the law was an infringement on everyone's Second Amendment rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. Many others had questions about some of the provisions: such as which guns are actually no longer allowed, what registering firearms actually means, and what happens to people who have clips that carry more than seven bullets.
The concern is so great that dozens of counties across the state -- including Fulton and Montgomery -- have passed resolutions urging the state to repeal the SAFE Act. Several more counties are poised to do the same.
If anyone was looking to wake the sleeping giant that is independent conservatism, this was it.
Nowhere was this more evident locally than at last week's forum on the SAFE Act at the Pine Tree Rifle Club in Johnstown. Having taken a bit of interest in this particular issue, I hauled myself over to the meeting to hear what folks had to say and to hear from Assemblyman Marc Butler, the Republican whose district includes Fulton County, which is where I live. Butler, who voted against the legislation, has several reasons to oppose the law, particularly because of the Remington Arms plant in Ilion, a major employer in his district that could be negatively affected by the law.
The turnout at the forum was massive, and the club's main meeting area exceeded capacity within minutes. Dozens of people were sent to the club's basement/firing range, where a speaker was set up so people could listen to the proceedings before the floor was opened to questions.
Surprisingly, most of those in attendance expressed legitimate concerns and asked reasonable questions about the SAFE Act. Naturally, there were some more wacky comments from people suggesting armed insurrection and secession from New York state, but for the most part, people seemed to be genuinely concerned about their rights and freedoms. That's a good thing, regardless of where you stand on the issue.
It was also refreshing to hear Fulton County Sheriff Tom Lorey make clear that the law doesn't allow for cops to come busting down anyone's door to seize their guns. Too many people, including the sheriff with his previous statements that he will never take anyone's guns ("not now, not ever"), have painted an inaccurate picture of what the SAFE Act actually does, which has clouded the debate. It would be nice if Gloversville Mayor Dayton King would walk back his public comments that the law could create another Waco-style standoff, because all that does is encourage folks, like the ones who made goofy statements at the Pine Tree club, to start shooting at gummint officials.
The consternation over the legislation doesn't stop with gun-rights advocates. The governor and the legislature are also getting blistered for the manner in which the SAFE Act came to be.
Presidential campaigns usually begin the day after a person is elected or re-elected. In fact, the dust had barely settled on Barack Obama's win last November when the conversation immediately turned to who were the front-runners for 2016, and Cuomo's name was at or near the top of most lists.
After the tragic school shootings in Newtown, Conn., in December, gun control was thrust into the national debate. Needing to make a bold move and solidify his place on the national stage, Cuomo responded by ramming the SAFE Act through the Assembly and state Senate, where it was passed before anyone realized it was coming.
There was no waiting period after the legislation was introduced to allow for public comment and discussion. It was initially passed in the dead of night, after the presses started rolling for most morning newspapers and after the 11 p.m. news broadcasts on television. Basically, most people in New York state woke up the following morning to the news that the state adopted the tough gun laws. It was obvious the move was made so New York state could be the first in the U.S. to take drastic action and was an attempt to paint Cuomo as a strong and decisive leader, positioning him for a White House run in 2016.
Boy, did that move backfire. Not only were the usual cries of foul coming from gun-rights advocates, folks on the other side of the argument have also turned on Cuomo because of the stealth tactics used to make the SAFE Act happen. A recent example comes from the Syracuse Post-Standard -- hardly a right-wing newspaper -- which editorialized that the swift passage of the legislation resulted in a "law that lacks legitimacy." The newspaper, along with several other media outlets including the Recorder, has noted that the gun control debate taking place now is one that should have happened before the SAFE Act became law.
Because of this law, Cuomo's chances of winning a national campaign took a major hit, and the blow might be one from which he'll not recover. What he's got going for him is that the attention spans of American voters are much shorter than they used to be, and many voters move on to the next issue more quickly than before.
But unlike the flare-ups that happened after New York legalized same-sex marriage -- which cost a couple of Republican state senators their jobs but has since pretty much faded away -- the pushback over gun control appears to be more focused and more determined. That's because it's coming from both sides -- the pro-gun crowd that wants the law repealed and the pro-gun control crowd bemoaning the governor's lack of transparency when passing the legislation.
It's tough to maintain footing on the national stage when you're getting attacked from all angles, and Cuomo's desire to be first with tougher gun restrictions may have cost him a chance to take up residency at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. a little less than four years from now.
CHARLIE KRAEBEL is editor
of the Recorder. Contact him