EDITORIAL: Are we still in Kansas?

I RECEIVED A RIFLE for my 15th birthday, give or take a year, a bolt action .22 caliber—one shot, reload, fire again. It replaced my BB gun. A friend had a makeshift shooting range in the basement of his suburban home. That’s the only place I recall firing it. I was not a good shot.

My father didn’t have a firearm, but my grandfather did. He’d received his pint-sized .22 caliber with instructions to use it for hunting prairie chickens around his home in Kansas, where he grew up. I’ve never seen a prairie chicken and never saw him fire his gun. But my grandmother told a story that she and others shared with family members.

My grandmother also grew up in Kansas in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Following graduation from college, she became a public school teacher at a one-room school. Some of the older boys decided to play pranks on the new teacher and put a live snake in one of her desk drawers. The snake was returned to its natural habitat and shortly thereafter the desk door was locked and the word got around that the teacher had replaced the snake with a pistol which she would now use to defend herself against serpents and bad boys.

Details of the story and its moral vary depending on the teller, and my grandmother received deserved credit for being brave and clever. But in my recollection it was the presence of the weapon that led to a just outcome. That might have passed for wisdom more than a century ago. But surely we can no longer pretend to survive in a world where guns solve problems rather than create them.

And yet over the last few weeks, as Buffalo residents gathered for burials of the 10 people killed in a local supermarket by a teenager with an assault weapon and body armor, another young male similarly equipped killed 20 fourth graders and two teachers in a school in Uvalde, Texas, while some politicians called for arming teachers. I think my grandmother would have disagreed with the lawmakers. Most teachers do.

There was a measure of welcome news from Albany last week. Governor Kathy Hochul and majorities of the state Assembly and Senate adopted 10 bills designed to close holes in existing gun laws. The new laws:
* Raise the age for legally purchasing assault weapons and body armor from 18 to 21 years old

* Require all police and other agencies to communicate Red Flag warnings that include findings by mental health practitioners about “potentially harmful individuals.” There is also a provision that extends to people who can file Extreme Risk Protection Orders.

*The release from the governor’s office on the bills also “Closes the ‘other gun’ loophole; requires microstamping of new semiautomatic pistols; eliminates grandfathering of high capacity feeding devices; requires Social Media Companies to improve response to and reporting of hateful content.”

The whole release can be found online at:

https://www.governor.ny.gov/

The lawmakers who prepared and voted for these potentially lifesaving measures deserve our gratitude and, soon enough, our support as federal courts steadily weaken or throw out our new gun safety efforts. The job ahead will require grassroots organizers around the country trying to convince voters in other states that New York gun laws can save lives anywhere.

If you’re looking for a place to start, consider Kansas. According to a website called CriminalDefenseLawyer, “Kansas has among the most gun-friendly laws in the United States.”

The challenge is immense.

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