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Guest Column: State Sen. Tom O'Mara
ALBANY, March 4 -- Let me make this clear at the start: I voted against the new New York State gun control law, the recently enacted NY SAFE Act. The final law and the legislative process that produced it shut out the public, trampled the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding and responsible citizens and, equally important, fundamentally failed to advance a strict law-and-order focus on the violent criminals who commit society’s most horrific and violent crimes.
We also now know that the SAFE Act puts in place one more layer of state-imposed, costly, time-consuming and unnecessary burdens on already hard-pressed local governments and taxpayers. It lacks common sense. It wasn’t well thought out. It was rammed through the Legislature in the middle of the night. It’s little wonder, then, that as of this writing more than 30 county legislatures have formally adopted resolutions calling for the Act’s repeal. More resolutions are on the way. They’re joined by opposition statements from local sheriffs, mental health professionals and individual citizens from all walks of life and every political persuasion.
But set all this aside for just a moment.
In the early months of his soon-to-be shortened tenure as New York State’s chief executive in 2007, former Governor Eliot Spitzer advanced, in a now infamous case of ill-conceived policymaking, a plan to issue driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants. The Spitzer plan quickly became a national flashpoint. It drew sharp rebukes from legislators from both sides of the political aisle, as well as from county clerks across the state, especially upstate, who would have been required to issue the licenses. Many clerks refused to do so. Public opinion polls soon showed 70% of New Yorkers opposed the plan. More tellingly, while Governor Spitzer’s statewide popularity was sky high in the months prior to the driver’s-license-for-illegal-immigrants controversy, a few months later just 25% of the respondents in one prominent poll said they would vote to re-elect him.
A day after that poll appeared, Governor Spitzer withdrew the plan.
Okay, so it’s just an interesting aside. But some are wondering if there might be any lasting parallels between the Spitzer proposal and Governor Cuomo’s prominent, top-down push of New York’s new gun-control law. Only time will tell, I guess.
The reality is that these are different issues, and very different governors. Still, it is fair to say that each instance has unleashed a similar upstate New York firestorm of opposition.
Late last week at one of the largest protest rallies ever seen at the Capitol, I stood with many citizens and local leaders from across the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes regions in opposition to the NY SAFE Act and, equally important, to the secretive legislative process that’s now produced a law full of failings and shortcomings.
Yes, the SAFE Act is undeniably a shoddy piece of policymaking. Its constitutionality will be legally challenged in the courts. It must be repealed or, at a minimum, amended in fundamental ways. We have to recognize that it will not keep New Yorkers safe from the tragic violence its supporters say it will – meaning that we can’t take our eye off the root causes of violent gun crime and violent criminals.
Will it be repealed? Governor Cuomo appears to have staked a good deal of his political future on the SAFE Act. The SAFE Act was approved by a 43 to 18 vote in the Senate, and by a vote of 104 to 43 in the Assembly. So I’ll answer with the following, rhetorical question: Do we think that all of those legislators who voted for the Act, and the governor who demanded it and immediately signed it into law, will now reverse course and suddenly agree to repeal it?
We understand that the odds are long that Governor Cuomo and all of the Act’s Senate and Assembly supporters will ever agree to repeal it on their own.
But it’s well worth the effort because my larger point here is this: this protest may have a lasting impact that goes far beyond the SAFE Act itself.
The SAFE Act is now the vehicle giving voice to the importance of the Second Amendment, absolutely. That’s critical.
But it’s also giving voice to long-simmering frustrations and anger at a state government largely controlled by downstate, urban-oriented, liberal powers-that-be who couldn’t care less about upstate New York’s economic decline, upstate’s tax burden, our traditions and values, or our way of life.
In an unforeseen turn of events, the SAFE Act has also become a platform from which individuals, local leaders and groups of all kinds, from every walk of life, across party lines, are reminding Albany that the grassroots is paying attention and is willing to act.
Can we somehow harness the opportunity presenting itself to further restore upstate New York’s rightful place in this government? It’s worth considering if anger over the SAFE Act can also help constitute a tipping point in upstate’s dissatisfaction when it comes to mandate relief, overregulation, high taxes and economic decline.
Again, only time – and a steady dose of effort -- will tell.
Photo in text: State Senator Tom O'Mara
Schuyler County Officials
Top row (from left): Dennis Fagan, Thomas Gifford, Doris Karius, Glenn Larison
Bottom row: Michael A. Yuhasz, Barbara Halpin, Phil Barnes, Stewart Field
Dennis Fagan, Tyrone 607-292-3687
Michael A. Yuhasz, 535-4967
Doris L. Karius, 546-5544
Barbara Halpin, 594-3683
Glenn R. Larison, 594-3385
Thomas M. Gifford, 535-9517
Phil Barnes, Watkins Glen 481-0482
Stewart Field, Watkins Glen 535-2335
County Clerk: Linda Compton, 535-8133
Sheriff: William Yessman, 535-8222
Undersheriff: Breck Spaulding, 535-8222
County Treasurer: Margaret Starbuck, 535-8181
District Attorney: Joseph Fazzary, 535-8383
State, Federal Officials for Schuyler County
Sen. Charles E. Schumer
United States Senate
Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand
United States Senate
State Senator Tom O'Mara -- Chemung, Schuyler, Steuben, Yates, western Tompkins, Enfield, Ithaca (Town and City), Newfield, Ulysses(Trumansburg)
Room 812, Legislative Office Building
Assemblyman Christopher Friend --
Chemung, Schuyler, Tioga
P.O. Box 365
Odessa, New York 14869