Gun control laws could prevent massacres like the one that just happened in Las Vegas, and a police encounter that unfolded this week in Fort Edward shows how.
Local police had heard about a man threatening a dog with a rifle, and Chief Justin Derway went to a home on Culvert Street, where Devin A. Pratt was standing in a driveway, holding an AR-15-style rifle.
Derway confiscated the rifle, because under New York’s SAFE Act, certain semi-automatic rifles with military features are illegal.
Derway wasn’t sure Pratt’s rifle was illegal, but he suspected it was, and after checking, Fort Edward police issued a warrant for Pratt for felony criminal possession of a weapon.
In the meantime, officers heard that Pratt had been making threats, including threats to kill Derway.
Pratt was not known as being unhinged. He is a longtime member of the Bay Ridge Volunteer Fire Company in Queensbury and has been serving as its vice president. The department’s chief called his actions “out of character.”
Pratt says his rifle is legal and says he didn’t threaten to kill Derway. The details of the confrontation are in dispute, and we do not know exactly what happened.
What we do know is that an angry man was standing in a public street in one of our local communities with an assault-style rifle in his hands.
But, because of New York’s SAFE Act, the situation was less scary than it could have been. Pratt’s rifle was taken away, and a warrant was issued for his arrest. These things happened because of our state’s gun control laws, which Gov. Andrew Cuomo has called the strictest in the country.
In Nevada, meanwhile, a middle-aged man people thought was a regular guy was able to amass an armory of 47 guns. He smuggled 23 of them into his suite at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino, 12 of them rigged with a device that allows a rifle to act like a machine gun so it can fire hundreds of rounds a minute.
The guns were legally acquired, and so were the devices — called bump stocks — that transformed them into machine guns, even though machine guns are illegal.
Stephen Paddock operated in secret, and police had no hint of the impending danger when he checked in to the Mandalay.
In New York, because of our stricter gun laws, Paddock would not have been able to amass such an arsenal. Nevada has some of the most lax gun laws in the country, in contrast. You can openly carry guns around. You can go to shooting ranges and fire fully automatic weapons, just for fun.
We cannot shut off every opportunity for unhinged people to inflict harm on others, but we should block the easy avenues to mass murder. Congress may soon take a very modest step in that direction by outlawing bump stocks.
But in light of the epidemic of mass shootings, our country needs to have a broader conversation. Police officers need tools to identify potentially dangerous people before they act.
The SAFE Act isn’t popular in this region, because some people feel it impinges on their liberty. But public safety requires the sacrifice of liberties. You’re not allowed to drive 100 mph on the Northway, no matter how much fun you feel it would be.
We can help officers nationwide identify and stop mass killings by regulating weapons the killers could use. New York has started on this task. The entire country should take it up.