The Binghamton shooting tragedy on April 3 — in which Vietnamese immigrant Jiverly Wong left 13 dead, four injured and eventually took his own life with a handgun — forced lawmakers to rethink the current handgun license laws.
Two New York state lawmakers, Sen. Eric Schneiderman (D-N.Y.) and Assemblywoman Amy Paulin (D-N.Y.), have pushed to reform the state’s current handgun license system, which Paulin described as a “dangerous lifetime permit system,” according to The Journal News.
Under the current law, every county north of Westchester gives lifetime permit licenses to any handgun owner. The bill, which is expected to be passed by the state assembly in Albany today, will provide for a five-year statewide renewal system.
“Under New York State law, drivers, cosmetologists, waxers and barbers all must renew their licenses every few years, yet handgun owners get a lifetime pass. It’s absurd that New York State is more interested in the mental health of the person who waxes your eyebrows than someone who owns a gun,” Schneiderman said in a recent press conference.
The new law would provide for regular updating of license information, ensure that the licensee is qualified to own a firearm and has complied with the terms of his or her license. Paulin suggested that constant background checks of license-owners might have prevented the Binghamton shootings earlier this month.
Wong obtained his handgun permit in New York in 1997 and moved to California in 2001. Had he been screened under the current bill in passing, Wong’s handgun license would have been up for renewal in 2002. However, under the current system, his handgun permit was still considered valid when he returned to New York in 2007. This allowed him to purchase a gun and claim the lives of thirteen individuals at the American Civic Association immigration center in Binghamton.
“My legislation will greatly help to prevent tragedies like what happened in Binghamton from happening again,” Paulin stated in a press release. “That tragedy serves as a somber illustration of how critically important it is that our state licensing system be thorough, that the records be accurate and up-to-date, and that handguns be accounted for.”
As of now, only New York City, Nassau, Suffolk and Westchester counties mandate the periodic renewal of handgun licenses. The goal of the bill is to expand this renewal system to every other county in the state.
Not all Cornell students, however, are in support of the bill.
“Primarily what concerns me is the fact that this is a reactive response to the shootings that occurred in Binghamton. I take issue with the fact that people do not find something to be a problem until an isolated incident such as this occurs,” said Erica Call ’11, treasurer of the Cornell Republicans. “I think there is a vast amount of legislation being pushed in New York State right now that severely hinders the rights of gun owners, and should not be ignored solely because they are not in response to a recent tragedy,” she added.
Opinions didn’t fall short with members of the Cornell faculty either.
“To believe that a person who owns a gun never has changes in their ability to use a weapon or their mental state or personal character is a naive view of people,” stated Prof. Thomas Ruttledge, chemistry, regarding the current New York State gun laws in place. “The simple act of growing older clearly means, for many people, reduced visual and physical abilities. I believe a periodic review, which would presumably involve updating the person’s criminal background and history, is both reasonable and prudent.”
The bill, which is being reviewed by the State Assembly today, must be passed by the State Senate as well, and signed by Governor David Paterson (D-N.Y.) before it takes full effect.
Cornell Democrats were unavailable for comment.