New York Passes New Gun Laws, But Will Nation Follow?

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by
Common Dreams

New York Passes New Gun Laws, But Will Nation Follow?

Gun specific measures welcomed by safety advocates, but mental health portions challenged by experts and professional

by
Jon Queally, staff writer

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo at a bill-signing ceremony on Tuesday with, in foreground from left, Leah Gunn Barrett of New Yorkers Against Gun Violence; Senator Jeffrey D. Klein; Sheldon Silver, the Assembly speaker; and Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins. (Photo: Nathaniel Brooks for The New York Times)

In what Governor Andrew Cuomo called simply a 'common sense' approach, New York passed the nation's most stringent gun safety laws Tuesday night following swift passage of the bill through the state's legislature.

New York's progress came nearly one month after the Sandy Hook massacre in December and one day before President Obama will publicly announce the White House's approach to tougher federal laws on Wednesday.

Advocates for better gun laws championed the developments in New York, recognizing that political will is all that prevents similar gun laws from being passed in other states or at the national level.

“Governor Cuomo and the lawmakers in Albany have shown tremendous leadership on the critical issue of gun violence.  By making this a priority, the Governor has not only saved lives, but will hopefully inspire leaders in Washington also to take swift action,” said Dan Gross, President of the Brady Campaign.

"The policies will have an immediate and widespread impact on gun violence, and when coupled with public health and safety education programs, will finally begin to address in a real way the epidemic of gun deaths in America," he said.

The law itself, called the New York Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act of 2013 (NY SAFE ACT), purports to give New York the most comprehensive gun safety laws in the nation.  Among its key provisions, the law:

  • Completely bans all pre-1994 high capacity magazines
  • Bans any magazine that can hold over 7 rounds (down from a limit of 10)
  • Forces real time background checks of ammunition purchases in order to alert law enforcement of high volume buyers

"Seven bullets in a gun, why? Because the high-capacity magazines that give you the capacity to kill a large number of human beings in a very short period of time is nonsensical to a civil society," Cuomo said.

In a more controversial aspect, the law also puts higher burdens on mental health professionals when it comes to reporting patients who they believe may be planning or capable of violent acts with guns. As many experts point out, such an assessment is nearly impossible to make accurately or consistently.

In inteviews with the Associated Press, "one expert called the new law meaningless and said he expects mental health providers to ignore it, while others said they worry about its impact on patients." According to AP:

Dr. Paul Appelbaum at Columbia University said the prospect of being reported to local mental health authorities and maybe the police might discourage people from revealing thoughts of harm to a therapist, or even from seeking treatment at all.

"The people who arguably most need to be in treatment and most need to feel free to talk about these disturbing impulses, may be the ones we make least likely to do so," said the director of law, ethics and psychiatry at Columbia. "They will either simply not come, or not report the thoughts that they have." [...]

"[The law] undercuts the clinical approach to treating these impulses, and instead turns it into a public safety issue," Appelbaum said.

He also noted that in many mass shootings in the past, the gunman had not been under treatment and so would not have been deterred by a law like the proposed measure. Before the mass shooting in a Colorado movie theater last July, gunman James Holmes had been seeing a psychiatrist, but Appelbaum said he doesn't know whether a law like New York's would have made a difference.

Dr. Steven Dubovsky, chairman of the psychiatry department at the University at Buffalo, called the new measure meaningless. "It's pure political posturing" and a deceptive attempt to reassure the public, he said.

The intent seems to be to turn mental health professionals into detectives and policemen, he said, but "no patient is going to tell you anything if they think you're going to report them."

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