Viewpoint: U.S. Supreme Court to hear first gun control law in decade

Karen Rubin
Karen Rubin, Columnist

New York state, already with the toughest gun control laws in the nation, is taking on ghost guns with laws that the state hopes will be a model for the nation.

Gov. Kathy Hochul came to the “Yes We Can” community center in Westbury, L.I., last week to sign two laws that address ghost guns by requiring all parts and guns to be serialized and registered and a third that prohibits “disguise guns” – that is, guns that are made to look like toys so they can be concealed.

Ghost guns are unserialized, untraceable firearms that can be purchased online without a background check. During the COVID-19 pandemic, sales of these dangerous weapons surged around the country as gun homicides hit new heights.

The laws Hochul signed will go a long way to keeping these guns off New York’s streets, including an emotional signing of the Scott J. Beigel Unfinished Receivers Act, named for the hero teacher of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. It bans the sale and possession of “unfinished receivers” that can easily be built into an AR-15, which she signed with Scott’s mother, gun sense activist Linda Beigel Schulman, at her side.

The second law, the Jose Webster Untraceable Firearms Act, named for a 16-year-old New Yorker who was shot dead on his neighborhood street, bans the sale and possession of ghost guns and requires all guns to be serialized so law enforcement can trace their sale.

It is a slap against Congress’ paralysis for failing to take any action whatsoever to address epidemic gun violence despite such horrors as Sandy Hook, Charleston, Las Vegas, Parkland (a list too long to recite) and the record number of gun homicides in 2020 of 19,379, despite an actual reduction in mass shootings (because people weren’t gathering in huge groups during COVID).

In face of an epidemic of gun violence, sensible gun regulation is a public health issue – as Gov. Hochul said, signing the law before a crowd of activists who have been fighting for sensible gun regulation for years, “My No. 1 job is protecting society.”

But regulating guns also has become a matter of protecting civil rights against a weapon being promoted to suppress free speech, free assembly, protest and even voting, as you have rising domestic terrorism – even based inside the Capitol – and calls by such figures as former President Trump, Marjorie Taylor Greene and Matt Gaetz (and why are they still in Congress?) for “1776 solutions” to fabricated, imagined “tyranny.” “This is our moment,” she said.

The gun safety laws Hochul signed came just days before the Supreme Court hears the New York State Pistol and Rifle Association Against New York State Police this week, challenging New York state’s ability to restrict concealed carry to those who show a need to carry a gun for their self-defense.

The association – and gun rights fanatics – want anyone to carry a gun – essentially, adopting the least restrictive gun regulation of gun-happy rural Red State America – so if you are riding on the Long Island Rail Road, going into a synagogue, a school, a courthouse, an election polling place, you won’t know if some psycho has strapped that sucker on and decided to use all of you for target practice. Or if you want to attend a protest for voting rights, visit a town hall, or even go into a polling place, you have to be concerned if that partisan poll watcher is packing heat. It’s called intimidation.

Kyle Rittenhouse is now on trial in Kenosha, Wis., on charges of murdering two police brutality protesters and injuring a third using a gun it was illegal for him to possess at age 17. Judge Bruce Schroeder, paving the way for his acquittal, has said the prosecution cannot refer to Rittenhouse’s victims as “victims” but the defense can refer to them as “arsonists” “rioters” and “looters”.

Patricia and Mark McCloskey of St. Louis, Mo., who brandished guns at peaceful Black Lives Protesters, pled guilty to misdemeanors. Trump attacked the prosecution as “abuse of power” and they were pardoned by Missouri Gov. Mike Parson. The McCloskeys claimed they were afraid for their lives, as the marchers walked passed their house. As one woman said, she used to take her child to a protest, but now would be afraid.

And let’s not forget the “Stand Your Ground” laws that the Koch-funded American Legislative Exchange Council instituted in many red states that basically incentivizes murder so you can claim “self-defense.”

Theoretically, if those Kenosha protesters had been carrying guns and shot Kyle Rittenhouse dead first, they would have been on safer ground to argue Stand Your Ground self-defense. Because Rittenhouse killed his victims, he is the one claiming self-defense.

Now these people are suing for the “right” to take their guns into voting places, even as the Trumpers are recruiting an “army” to “defend” against imagined voter fraud (they claim they need the guns in polling places for “self-defense”), with the specter of Jan. 6 “solutions” still raw. Can you imagine people standing at the entrance, strapped with AK15s, or armed “poll watchers” standing over people as they mark their ballots?

It is no coincidence that hate crimes and gun homicides hit new peaks under Trump, who promoted violence even as a 2016 candidate. Last year, the FBI reported the highest number of hate crimes in over 20 years – 8,052 single-bias incidents involving 11,126 victims.

Now the Supreme Court, emboldened with a 6-3 radically right wing court that has proved itself ready and willing to overturn decades of precedent, may well threaten New York and any state’s ability to regulate guns – elevating the Second Amendment above the First Amendment’s protections.

The New York case will be the first major gun control case the Supreme Court has taken up since 2010. In 2008, in District of Columbia v. Heller and then in 2010, in McDonald v. City of Chicago, the court gleefully changed 200 years of precedent to declare an “individual right” to carry a gun (dismissing entirely the Second Amendment’s reference to “well regulated” and “militia”) over a state or locality’s ability to protect its residents.

Indeed, the concern of Justices Gorsuch, Kavanaugh and Barrett over Texas SB8 wasn’t that women’s lives would be upended by forcing women to bear children (notably refusing to stay SB8 while they deliberate), but that other states would use bounty-hunting vigilantes to go after gun owners.

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Karen Rubin

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