‘You and Your Kind’

Gun advocates carry firearms and hold signs during an open carry firearm rally on the sidelines of the annual National Rifle Association (NRA) meeting in Dallas, Texas, May 5, 2018. (Adrees Latif/Reuters)

In response to The New York Post’s ‘Assault Weapons’ Editorial Is Nonsensical

Charlie, it is true that New York City has very strict gun-control laws. It adopted them in the early 20th century during a wave of anti-immigrant hysteria.

From the New York Times:

In 1911, the first person convicted for illegal gun possession under New York’s Sullivan law was Marino Rossi, who was arrested in Manhattan on his way to New Haven from Newark. Mr. Rossi maintained that he had been cautioned by friends to carry his .38-caliber revolver for protection against Italian gangsters. To which the judge, after considering Mr. Rossi’s testimony that “it was the custom of yourself as well as your countrymen to carry guns,” declared: “It is unfortunate that this is the custom with you and your kind, and that fact, combined with your irascible nature, furnishes much of the criminal business in this country.” The judge, who was not of Italian descent, sentenced Mr. Rossi to a year in Sing Sing.

New York had also seen a series of hysteria-inducing public shootings, including one at Gramercy Park.

Two observations:

One, New York City’s strict gun-control laws did nothing to prevent the city from sliding into crime and chaos in the pre-Giuliani era. Since the Giuliani era, New York City has been doing better than most big U.S. cities on the crime front. Why that is the case is difficult to say, but economic and social changes in the city probably are more significant causes than the city’s gun-control laws, which have remained largely the same through periods of relatively high crime and relatively low crime.

Two, enforcement is another matter. Give New York this much: For a long time, it actually enforced its gun laws. Unlike some other big U.S. cities, those caught with an illegal firearm in New York stood an excellent chance of spending a year or two in jail. Or at least that was the case: As Jarrett Murphy writes at the Trace (“an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit newsroom dedicated to shining a light on America’s gun violence crisis”), in the 1990s about 40 percent of New York gun-offense arrests ended in conviction. From 2009 to 2016, that number was down to 18 percent. When four out of five of those arrested with illegal firearms go free, you have a problem of institutional failure.

Those firearms cases are hard to make. They take a great deal of work and generate few headlines. They don’t make a lot of careers. Leaning on licensed firearms dealers and those who do business with them is, from the bureaucratic point of view, relatively easy.

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