Sunday, June 10, 2012

More on 'Sullivan Law'

New York's insidious Sullivan Law, enacted in 1911 and discussed in yesterday's post, is still on the books. It was introduced and debated [sic] virtually unnoticed by the citizenry, thanks to a corrupt sponsor and sleepy legislators easily duped by "common good" rhetoric.

Once passed, the Sullivan Act had an immediate and obvious effect on law-abiding New Yorkers. Worse, it triggered a wave of similar bills in state legislatures nationwide.

Protests against such repressive and patently unconstitutional laws were mustered, for the most part, too late to stem legislative tide. The August 1912 issue of Field and Stream, for example, led its editorial page with "National Disarmament." A few excerpts:
"The so-called 'anti-pistol laws,' all of them modeled more or less upon the notorious Sullivan Law passed in New York State in 1911, have become a veritable epidemic, disarmament bills having been presented in forty-seven states, culminating in the drastic Simms bill introduced at Washington prohibiting the sale or use of firearms for any purpose or under any conditions whatever.

"It is high time that the sportsmen's magazines, revolver, rifle and shotgun clubs, and all to whom either the grooved-bore or the smooth-bore is a means of sport and recreation, got together in a campaign which would show the nation the real sentiment of the people with regard to these disarmament measures, and make it unsafe, politically, for any demagogue or cheap politician with a black-mailing scheme up his sleeve to introduce such bills into our State and national legislatures."

"The actual result of the Sullivan Law so far has been an unprecedented wave of crime in the big cities; bank messengers were robbed in automobiles with impunity as the burglars knew they were not armed; the number of murders have increased over the preceding year and at the same time respectable citizens, no matter whether citizens of New York State or not, were unable even so much as to transport a revolver across New York City without becoming a felon and liable to fine and imprisonment."
Perhaps it shouldn't surprise us that an outdoor-recreation magazine would criticize Sullivan Law, but Field and Stream wasn't alone in objecting. In its May 24, 1913 edition, The New York Times ran "A Change in the Pistol Law." From the Times editorial:
"That the concealed weapon law has not worked as well as was expected, or at any rate hoped, by those of us who commended it in principle, if not in all its details, is a fact too obvious for denial.

"Criminals are as well armed as ever, in spite of the sternness with which the law has been applied to a few of them, while there has been a rather general impression among honest men, mistaken but none the less real, that they were wrongly deprived, if not of the means, at least of the right to have the means, for defending themselves and their property. And if the dealers in firearms are keeping the required record of their sales -- which seems doubtful -- we are not hearing of the promised good effects, and perhaps the worst consequence of the law is that many good citizens, as well as all bad ones, have defied or ignored it without suffering much from their consciences."

"...The rightness of having or carrying a pistol is not at all a matter of money, but wholly one of character and avowable need. Something very much like a natural instinct tells the honest householder that to make him ask anybody's permission to have a revolver in his bureau drawer, or even under his pillow, is a hardship, tinged with absurdity."
Both of those editorials were right on the facts and righteous in their intent, and yet Sullivan Law remains in force today. What's more, literally thousands of similar measures (and worse) have been enacted over the last century -- at the federal, state and local levels. Why?

We, like Americans a hundred years ago, don't understand what it means to be vigilant. We continue to elect our representatives based on affinity and identity, pandering and promises of pork, instead of demanding unequivocal defense of constitutional principles.

And when we do earn a victory, we spike the ball -- meanwhile, the enemies of Liberty draw up new plays to exploit our overconfidence.

The threats to our Second Amendment right never vanish, never diminish. Considering what's at stake, we can't relax, ever. Just ask a New Yorker what the price is for failing to be vigilant: Sullivan Law, 100 years and counting.