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The right debate, but the wrong way to go about it

Thursday, February 28, 2013 - Updated: 4:51 PM

Gov. Andrew Cuomo wanted to act quickly to tighten New York's gun laws, before the horror of Newtown faded and opponents had a chance to weaken their strict provisions. But haste and an utter lack of transparency threaten to undermine his efforts.

In a rebellion that even the iron-fisted governor may not be able to contain, more than 20 Upstate counties have passed non-binding resolutions calling for the repeal of the NY Safe Act. The Onondaga County Legislature could become the next, if Legislator Kevin Holmquist, R-Manlius, prevails.

Some local governments are objecting to the law on the grounds it violates the Second Amendment protection of the right of citizens to bear arms. Others echo our complaints about the secrecy of the process. Less than two weeks after Cuomo's emotional appeal for action in his State of the State address, he and state legislative leaders reached an agreement that became law within the space of two days.

To move that fast, Cuomo and legislative leaders short-circuited the three-day waiting period, public input and floor debate. Fears that opening a discussion on gun control would sink it may have led to a worse outcome: a law that lacks legitimacy in the eyes of the citizens whose voices were not heard.

It's not how democracy is supposed to work. Especially in these polarized times, rarely is there consensus on any issue. People agree or disagree, or are somewhere in between. They debate, they compromise (or not) and they vote. Even those who disagree with the result accept it, because it was born of the democratic process.

That's how gay marriage -- another hot-button issue -- came to be in New York. A marriage equality bill had been routinely passed in the Assembly, but had failed the last time it came up for a vote in Senate. After Cuomo was elected, the pro-gay marriage governor and his allies went to work, privately twisting the arms of reluctant Republican senators. Actually getting a floor vote was the first hurdle. Then in open session -- not a private party caucus -- senators had a chance to explain their reasoning and vote their consciences. At the ballot box, a couple of Republican senators paid the price for their votes. For the rest, life went on and the controversy faded away.

The gun control controversy isn't fading away. It's spawning lawsuits, demonstrations in Albany and repeal resolutions across Upstate. The resolutions have no legal force, but gun control advocates are concerned enough about the pushback to plan rallies of their own around the state, with the backing of celebrities like Russell Simmons.

The debate we're having now is the one we should have had before New York passed the strictest gun control law in the nation. Cuomo was right to spend his considerable political capital on an issue he cares about, but doing an end-run around the public was the wrong way to go about it.

-- The Syracuse Post-Standard

     

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