The Daily Star, Oneonta, NY - otsego county news, delaware county news, oneonta news, oneonta sports

February 15, 2014

In Our Opinion: Lawmakers shouldn't encourage lawlessness

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The Daily Star

---- — ‘Non-compliance” was the term used by one of the speakers at last weekend’s forum about the NY SAFE Act. 

Let’s not mince words; this is a polite way of saying “breaking the law.” 

No doubt the folks at New York Revolution, the organization that hosted the forum, are well aware that America has a proud tradition of civil disobedience. The group’s website contains plenty of images and language referencing the American Revolution, suggesting that refusing to obey laws such as the NY SAFE Act are as heroic an action as fighting the British for America’s freedom. 

None of this, of course, is surprising. Groups such as NYR have made it clear from the outset that they believe the 2013 law, which established a variety of tight controls on firearm sales and ownership, is unjust. And several sheriffs around the state, including those in our four local counties, have said they will not enforce the law — a statement we decried. 

Nor is it surprising that the forum went off before a packed house in Delhi. To say that the NY SAFE Act is unpopular in the local area may be a bit of an understatement. 

What is surprising, however, was to see three respected local legislators share the stage with those who told the assembled audience, essentially, “If you don’t like the law, don’t follow it.”

Now, to be clear, state Sen. James Seward of Milford, Assemblyman Pete Lopez of Schoharie and Congressman Chris Gibson of Kinderhook didn’t stand up there and tell people that it was OK to break the law. 

But by not contradicting that message, the three Republicans seem to have given it their tacit approval. And we couldn’t disapprove more with the message this sends. 

Of course, each individual chooses whether to obey the law, and nothing can compel anyone to follow a law he doesn’t agree with. 

But that doesn’t mean we should encourage people to pick and choose which laws to follow and which to ignore. To do so is to invite anarchy.  

Are there times when civil disobedience is appropriate? Absolutely. When people are disenfranchised and have no direct means to change the law — as in the American Revolution — it may be the only course of action. 

But we live in a representative democracy. As Seward noted, a bill is already before the state Senate to repeal many of the provisions of the SAFE Act. Those who do not approve of the law have every opportunity to change it through conventional means. 

While Seward warned that “a repeal is a long process and will take years,” we think that it’s worth the wait. The alternative is simply unacceptable — and we would think that these three lawmakers would know that.