COMMENTARY | New York’s SAFE Act was pushed through the state assembly through a non-democratic process called a “message of necessity.” A “message of necessity” is a provision of New York statutes that permitted Gov. Cuomo to push the new gun bill through without waiting the required three days for comment and discussion.
The outcry from hunting enthusiasts, sport shooters, and activist gun rights groups was expected, but few anticipated the protests of the mental health community.
Until the SAFE Act was passed, that group has generally been quiet regarding gun control legislation. But the new gun law attempts to mitigate gun violence at the hands of the mentally ill.
Lawmakers perhaps considered cases like that of Seung Hui Cho, who shot to death 32 people in a 2007 mass shooting at Virginia Tech. Cho had been judged mentally ill in a court procedure two years earlier, according to the Washington Post.
Yet Cho passed required background checks to obtain guns, according to CNN, because his mental health records were kept out of the gun check database. With the SAFE Act, New York state legislators made a half-hearted attempt to remedy that by obligating mental health professionals to report dangerously mentally ill patients to authorities.
Such persons would then be entered into a national gun database.
The defiant reaction of the mental health community was summed up in a Syracuse Post-Standard story quoting Dr. James Knoll, director of forensic psychiatry at New York’s Upstate Medical University.
“We’re being transformed into agents of the state and agents of government control,” Knoll said.
Hardly the views of a right-wing militia member. Not to worry, though. There is no penalty for failing to comply because of exculpatory language used in the new law.
Should any future mass shootings by mentally ill patients rise to headline status, expect to hear an abundance of exonerating phrases like “reasonable professional judgment” and “good faith.”
The SAFE Act has the distinct odor of bureaucratic incompetence. More than half the state’s county governments have passed resolutions urging repeal of the act. Gun rights advocates who might have supported legitimate measures of the law were shut out of a process that alienated large number of the state’s voters.
Even the state sheriffs wonder aloud if their own high-capacity magazines and “assault weapons” were rendered illegal by a governor’s signature, hastily applied.
“Law enforcement exemptions must be clarified,” reads a section of the New York State Sheriff’s Association page.
Anthony Ventre is a freelance writer and a Yahoo contributor in news, commentary, and financial writing.