In wake of Sandy Hook, gun control affects UB
Students react to new NY gun restrictions
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signs New York's Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act into law during a ceremony in the Red Room at the Capitol on Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2013, in Albany, N.Y. Also pictured from left are Senate co-leader Jeffrey Klein (D-Bronx), Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) and Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-Yonkers). Behind Cuomo is Lt. Gov. Robert Duffy. Courtesy of Associated Press
Student Association President Travis Nemmer, a former member of his high school rifle team and part of a family who owns and actively shoots guns, believes the latest New York State gun law regulations are counterproductive.
He believes the focus should be on the mental health of all Americans instead of focusing solely on gun laws. To him, the answer lies in eliminating the problems before they become problems.
The New York State Senate passed the Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act (NY SAFE) on Jan. 15, approving a new set of changes to gun regulation. Some New York Republicans in both the Senate and Assembly warned against moving too quickly to pass the new set of laws following the recent shootings that took place around the country and in New York State. Some UB students are also apprehensive about the stricter policies.
NY SAFE changed the maximum rounds of ammunition a magazine can hold from 10 to seven and the new law requires universal background checks for all gun sales, even if they are private person-to-person transactions. New York became the first state to pass tougher gun policies after the massacre with an assault rifle at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn. on Dec. 14.
Nemmer thinks bad policy comes out of poor planning, and politicians want to make a name for themselves by being the first to make laws after a tragedy.
"[Politicians will] jump on the latest event and they'll try to legislate something about it and they'll ram that law through as quickly as possible, to the detriment of all people involved," Nemmer said. "I don't think we should make laws directly in relation to Newtown. What the U.S. does need is a very serious conversation about mental health."
Nemmer believes mental health is the most important issue for America's youth. He believes there should be more funding for school psychologists and more access to the drugs or therapies people might need.
"How about we make sure school psychologists aren't the first ones on the chopping block when the budget cuts come?" Nemmer said. "How about we spend less money building multimillion-dollar football arenas for high schools when we have guidance counselors who are ignored, underpaid or don't exist in some schools?"
Michael Calliste, a sophomore political science major and communication director for the College Democrats, doesn't believe in elimination of the Second Amendment rights of Americans. Although he thinks guns are powerful, he doesn't think all guns need to be banned - only the more powerful ones like assault rifles.
"We should have some weapons and some hunting guns," Calliste said. "But pragmatically, you have to understand that lower guns means lower homicide and that's all there is to it. We need to understand this is a thing we can do very simply if we have political capital and political will."
James Ingram, a sophomore political science major and the communication director for the College Republicans, believes firearms are a major part of American history and culture. "[Gun culture is] part of what makes us American," Ingram said. "There are many people - 90 million gun owners - who are using them legally for hunting or sport. I don't think that's the problem because we've always had a gun culture in America."
They all agree the major underlying issue is mental health treatments available for people of all ages. The NY SAFE bill also makes changes for mentally ill individuals. If a mental health professional decides someone is a potential risk to others or themselves, they would be required to alert the authorities, who would then have the ability to confiscate any firearms that person may own.
Calliste feels the guns available in today's society are incredibly dangerous and should not be as readily available to people.
NY SAFE also includes a "Webster provision," which is a mandatory life-without-parole prison sentence for anyone who murders a first responder. The provision was included following the Christmas Eve shooting in Webster, N.Y., in which two firefighters were shot and killed while responding to a fire.
"These things [like the Newtown shooting] happen," Calliste said. "They're aberrations, and they do happen. But we can lower the lethality. We can lower the frequency of them happening by stricter legislation, having less powerful weapons on the street, preventing access to military-grade weapons, as well as increasing mental health care."
Calliste believes the current state of mental health in America is stigmatized. He said, as a culture, the American people believe it's not OK to seek help. But he also believes the media is partly to blame for their coverage of events like the Newtown shooting.
"I find the media to be, at times, at least the mainstream, to be a little sensationalist," Calliste said. "There is definitely a gun control issue here. There are definitely questions we have to ask moving forward, but at times, the media kept moving footage of the kids crying and of the school. It's just a little insensitive at times. But they're a business, and that's how they do it."
Under NY SAFE, the state will have one year to set up an instant background check system for all ammunition purchases and law enforcement would be alerted to large purchases of ammunition.
Alana Barricks, a junior political science major, does not own any guns but believes the Second Amendment is not about hunting but defending liberty from tyranny.
"People are failing to realize that more gun laws are not going to solve the issue; it is only oppressing our Constitutional rights," Barricks said. "Gun-related violence is not committed by legal weapons. Making a type of gun illegal doesn't mean anything to someone conducting violent activity because these guns are already criminally obtained."
New York Sen. Thomas O'Mara, R-Big Flats in Chemung County, told USA Today he cautioned against a vote for the bill. O'Mara believes Governor Andrew Cuomo and New York State simply want to be the first in the nation to adopt tougher gun laws.
"It's certainly very frustrating, but the governor has made this his priority issue and I think the No. 1 concern of his is to get it done first, before anybody else does anything," O'Mara told USA Today. "When we're dealing with issues of Second Amendment concern or any Constitutional concern, we should be taking a greater and more thorough look at it with the opportunity for discussion amongst all interested parties."
Ingram thinks exposure to violent video games, movies and television affects the way kids think about violence.
"I think that what we have in this country is a sort of fascination with violent movies and violent video games," Ingram said. "I think that people have the right to play those games and enjoy those games ... But what I think is a problem is that kids are playing these games from such a young age that it desensitizes them to what they're seeing."'
Nemmer believes in looking closer at the underlying causes of poor mental health and into better social services for all Americans, instead of making gun laws stricter.
"The most important issue here is mental health and caring for the mental well-being of America's school children," Nemmer said. "Not armed guards, not armed teachers, which is absurd, but the answer certainly lies with eliminating these problems before they become problems."
While the new law has sparked debate between citizens and government officials, the laws have gone into effect immediately. Although the long-term effects are unknown, they have already made an impact on the American gun culture.
Additional Reporting by Asst. News Editor Sam Fernando
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