Governor Andrew Cuomo was merely appealing to his blue state liberal base when he said recently that “confiscation could be an option” when considering possible changes in New York’s gun laws. Since then, Cuomo has acknowledged that forcing citizens to give up their legally owned firearms is not the most practical idea to emanate from Albany. New York already has some of the toughest gun laws in the country, including an assault weapons ban. But Cuomo, like President Obama, is looking to capitalize on the public outrage about the Newtown massacre to build up support for even more restrictions on gun ownership.
Given that the existing gun laws—which are aimed at making possession of a weapon more difficult for law-abiding citizens—don’t seem to have made it harder for criminals to obtain illegal guns, it’s not clear that a new round of legislation at either the federal or the state level is going to do much to prevent a repeat of Newtown in which a crazed gunman runs amuck. But you can bet that Cuomo’s loose talk about “confiscation” will do wonders for the National Rifle Association’s fundraising campaign.
Democrats like Cuomo are on firm ground when they speak of tightening the laws on assault weapons as well as restricting the sale of ammunition clips that give shooters the ability to fire massive amounts of bullets in a short space of time. Most Americans, even those that own guns and support Second Amendment rights, are amenable to the notion that government has the right to regulate military-style weapons. That is the sort of thing that strikes most people as reasonable. In the aftermath of Newtown there is an appetite for more gun control, and so long as those laws don’t impinge on basic gun rights, they are likely to pass in the changed political climate since the slaughter of 20 children and six adults at the Sandy Hook Elementary School.
But the moment a prominent liberal office-holder starts talking about governmental measures that involve taking away firearms that were legally obtained, they are doing the NRA a favor. The group’s down-the-line opposition to even the most reasonable of gun regulations stems from a belief that any restriction on gun ownership is the thin edge of the wedge toward abolition of the right to bear arms. That’s why groups that seek to promote gun control, such as the one just founded by former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and her husband to oppose the NRA, have been at pains to say that they don’t want to take away guns from citizens.
Initiatives like the ones championed by Cuomo or the one being cooked up by Vice President Biden at President Obama’s behest aren’t likely to accomplish much. The virtues of new legislation for Democrats are primarily political. New laws allow them to claim they are doing something to stop another Newtown even if it doesn’t address the vital issue of mental health. They also appeal to their liberal base that longs to hear more talk about confiscation.
But the more liberals talk about taking away legal guns the better things are for the NRA. The group shot itself in the foot last month with a ham-handed and insensitive response to Newtown that put it very much on the political defensive. They have yet to recover from that blunder. But comments like those of Cuomo are catnip to the NRA, since they are certain to energize their donors and activists and scare members of Congress who may have been wavering in their loyalty to the group’s demands after Newtown. No matter what changes are made to New York’s already vast body of gun restrictions, Cuomo’s quote will be a gift that keeps on giving to the NRA for years to come.