Eric Adams, who recently won the Democratic nomination for mayor of New York City and is therefore expected to succeed Bill de Blasio in January, yesterday agreed with CNN's Jake Tapper that his party's obsession with banning so-called assault weapons reflected "misplaced" priorities. Yet as a state senator, Adams supported an expansion of New York's "assault weapon" ban, a purely symbolic law that has been widely flouted and has done nothing to reduce gun violence. Worse, the former police captain's role in that legislation illustrated his view that current and retired cops should not have to follow the gun rules that apply to the rest of us.
While interviewing Adams on State of the Nation, Tapper noted that the firearms targeted by "assault weapon" bans account for a small share of homicides, which are far more likely to be committed with ordinary handguns. "Do you think the priorities of national Democrats may have been misplaced?" he asked. "Yes, I do," Adams replied. "I believe those priorities, they really were misplaced."
Adams did not seem to think so in 2013, when he and his colleagues hurriedly approved a gun control bill that Gov. Andrew Cuomo pushed in the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre. The New York Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement (NY SAFE) Act broadened the definition of "assault weapons" to include semi-automatic rifles that accept detachable magazines and have any of seven prohibited features. As usual with such laws, the logic of that list was hard to fathom. An adjustable stock, a threaded barrel, or a bayonet mount, for instance, does not make a rifle any deadlier, but such features are enough to make the rifle illegal in New York.
"This long-overdue vote adds important new safeguards to prevent the purchase of the most dangerous firearms," Adams claimed after the legislature approved the NY SAFE Act. "I am proud to have personally introduced much of the legislation that led to this agreement, and to have worked alongside my fellow Brooklynites to push Albany for a stricter assault weapons ban, [for] restrictions on high-capacity magazines and for other common sense gun laws."
The NY SAFE Act required owners of newly banned "assault weapons" to register them with the state police by April 2014. When that deadline passed, fewer than 45,000 guns had been registered out of an estimated 1 million. As the New York Daily News noted in 2015, that pitiful result suggested that "many New Yorkers are ignoring a central provision of what had been touted by gun control advocates as a milestone law."
The law, which was passed in such a rush that legislators did not have a chance to read it, also reduced New York's limit on magazine capacity from 10 rounds to seven. Why? Because, as Cuomo explained, "nobody needs 10 bullets to kill a deer." After Cuomo discovered that the seven-round magazines he had mandated did not exist, that decree was changed to a rule that allowed gun owners to possess 10-round magazines as long as they did not put more than seven rounds in them (seriously). In 2013 a federal judge deemed that provision unconstitutional, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit agreed in 2015.
Adams was outraged by the seven-round limit, but only because legislators had neglected to include an exception for active-duty and retired law enforcement officers. "You can't give more ammo to the criminals," he said, explaining the need for a corrective amendment exempting him from the seven-round limit. Norman Seabrook, president of the New York City Correction Officers' Benevolent Association, elaborated on Adams' point:
As a law enforcement officer for over 20 years, I understand the importance of instituting a new policy on mandating the limits of bullets that a regular citizen can possess, but as a matter of fact the bad guys are not going to follow this law….The way the current legislation is drafted, it actually handcuffs the law enforcement community from having the necessary ammunition needed to save lives. We must not allow this to happen.
In other words, since it was obvious that criminals would ignore the seven-round limit, it would be reckless to make "the law enforcement community" follow it. But "regular citizens" did not deserve the defensive advantage that Adams demanded for himself. He literally voted to put himself above the law, unashamedly demanding a double standard that sent a clear message to his fellow New Yorkers: My life is worth more than yours.
The same attitude is apparent in Adams' announcement that he will carry a concealed handgun to protect himself as mayor. He presented that plan as evidence that he is a man of the people who "won't have a security detail." But in a state where it is essentially impossible for ordinary residents to legally carry handguns for self-defense, Adams' heat packing is a mark of privilege.