- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Recent editorials of statewide and national interest from New York’s newspapers:

The Times Union of Albany on the Connecticut governor’s plan to ban firearms sales to anyone on the federal “no-fly” list.

Dec. 16

Frustrated by Congress’ refusal to stop the sale of guns to people with suspected ties to terrorism, Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy last week took a bold step: He signed an executive order barring the sale of firearms in his state to anyone on the federal no-fly list.

Governor Malloy’s action, however, has a huge loophole: A person blocked from buying a gun in Connecticut could simply drive to a neighboring state and purchase one.

Nonetheless, Gov. Andrew Cuomo should follow Gov. Malloy’s lead. While some might see such a move by only two states as symbolic, history suggests there is cause to be more optimistic.

Consider that in 1971, the Suffolk County Legislature banned phosphate laundry detergents because they were polluting sensitive groundwater aquifers on Long Island. Yes, for a time, some county residents sneaked in the banned products. But eventually, detergent manufacturers found ways to make their products safer by using different ingredients. Today, communities everywhere are free of the harmful substances that Suffolk County first stood up against.

This strategy could be applied to guns as well. After the massacre of 26 children and adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., New York passed the SAFE Act, which included a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, and limits on the number of rounds in guns. Courts have largely upheld the law.

Similarly, the Chicago suburb of Highland Park in 2013 banned the sale, purchase and possession of semiautomatic firearms with the capacity to accept more than 10 rounds. Although gun rights groups challenged the action, contending it violated the Second Amendment, courts have upheld the ban. The U.S. Supreme Court recently declined to take up the case, letting the law stand and, in effect, affirming its constitutionality.

Such actions may seem symbolic at the moment. After all, anyone who wants to buy firearms banned in New York or Highland Park can easily purchase them in many other states or communities.

And there is little sign - for the moment - that Congress, for all its talk of protecting Americans from terrorism, will stand up to the gun lobby and pass the kinds of sensible gun control laws that overwhelming numbers of citizens support.

That includes closing the “terror gap” that allows people on the no-fly list to purchase guns - as thousands of people suspected of ties to terrorism have been able to do. If there are problems with the list and concerns about due process, as gun rights and civil activists note, Congress should address that, too. Instead, it chooses to do nothing.

But, to borrow a phrase, this may be a time to think nationally and act locally. Like Suffolk County’s sulfate ban, a small initiative could yield big momentum. And that might, at long last, bring even a Congress addicted to gun lobby dollars to its senses.

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Online:

http://bit.ly/1O8ysEn

The Journal News on New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s veto of two bills intended to improve government transparency.

Dec. 16

As a hue and cry rose over Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s ill-timed veto of two bills that strengthen government transparency, the governor floated his own plans to strengthen the state’s Freedom of Information Laws.

But in the wake of the high-profile convictions of two of Albany’s former legislative bosses, Cuomo’s plan does not go far enough. Besides, we’ve heard Cuomo come up with lofty legislative plans to make important social change early in the year, only to see efforts fizzle out by the legislative session’s close in June.

The two bills Cuomo vetoed, sponsored by Westchester County lawmakers, would have strengthened the state’s Freedom of Information Law, making it easier for citizens and journalists to get public records.

Instead of signing smart bills, Cuomo issued an executive order Saturday to speed appeals over FOIL disputes, calling the move a “strong, sensible step to increase transparency in state government.” And he promised to propose comprehensive reform of FOIL during the next legislative sessions, starting in January.

But Cuomo did not placate eight good-government groups that preferred the vetoed bills. “The governor was given a clear choice between being part of the problem in Albany or part of the solution,” they said in a statement. “These vetoes call into question the governor’s commitment to transparency and Freedom of Information.”

One of the bills, sponsored by Assemblyman David Buchwald, D-White Plains, would have to cut from 10 months to 90 days the maximum time for government agencies to appeal a FOIL decision. The second bill, sponsored by Assemblywoman Amy Paulin, D-Scarsdale, would have required agencies to pay legal fees if a judge found that the agency inappropriately denied a records request.

In his veto message, Cuomo said that Buchwald’s bill was well-meaning but would not affect all branches of government, since the state Legislature is exempt from parts of FOIL. He really didn’t like Paulin’s bill, saying it could produce irresponsible litigation.

But there are problems with Cuomo’s rationale.

His executive order applies only to state agencies. Buchwald’s bill would have helped citizens obtain records from local and county governments and from school districts. Cuomo could have signed the bill and worked to strengthen transparency in the Legislature.

When it comes to Paulin’s bill, Cuomo’s veto doesn’t cut it. No one wants to see irresponsible litigation. But this bill wasn’t that. The bill only would have applied to cases where an agency clearly ignored the law in denying a request. In such a case, the agency should pay legal fees.

Cuomo says his FOIL reforms are better because they include the Legislature, which he categorizes, in a broad generalization as exempt from FOIL. But why hold up important reforms that ease access to state, school district and local government records, which is what FOIL requests seek? Besides, both vetoed bills would have applied to the Legislature.

While Cuomo has touted his administration as the “most transparent,” that’s a hard sell for a governor who’s known for secrecy. (Remember when he instituted - then, under intense scrutiny, backed off - a 90-day automatic deletion policy for emails?)

No doubt, Cuomo’s proposals for FOIL reform will be closely watched. He will be expected to deliver something of substance. After the newest round of corruption convictions in Albany, New Yorkers deserve nothing less.

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Online:

http://lohud.us/1Qqx0Ok

The Adirondack Daily Enterprise on Donald Trump’s proposal to ban Muslims from entering the U.S.

Dec. 14

Criticism of presidential candidate Donald Trump’s proposal to ban Muslims from entering the United States is absolutely right on moral grounds. As Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, put it, “It’s not what this country stands for.”

It’s also right to criticize Mr. Trump’s exclusion on constitutional grounds. The first words of the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights - before guaranteeing the freedoms of speech, the press, assembly or petition - prohibits Congress from establishing any official U.S. religion or from stopping anyone from practicing their religion here. Therefore, the nation cannot discriminate against any religion when it comes to admission or anything else.

But Mr. Trump’s idea is bad for another reason: It wouldn’t work.

Mr. Trump has called for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States,” either to live here or just to visit. He seems to think that would keep Islamic terrorists from sneaking into our country to kill Americans.

Why not just stop everyone entering the country and ask them if they plan to engage in terrorist attacks? Getting terrorist infiltrators to confess that is about as realistic as believing that, if Mr. Trump’s ban is implemented, they will admit they are Muslims.

“Who, me? No, I’m a devout Christian. I left (insert name of country where Islamic terrorists have operations) to get away from those crazies.”

The New York billionaire has achieved political success by offering simplistic answers to complex questions. His new idea is simple, too - in the most unflattering meaning of that word.

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Online:

http://bit.ly/1NTpqco

The Gloversville Leader-Herald on allegations that U.S. Central Command officials altered intelligence regarding Iraq and Syria.

Dec. 16

More than 50 military intelligence analysts have said their conclusions about battling terrorists in Syria and Iraq were altered by U.S. Central Command officials to exaggerate successes against groups such as the Islamic State.

Members of Congress revealed Friday they will investigate the allegations. If they are accurate - and the number of analysts making them adds weight - the reports are more than a scandal. They are an indication high officials in the military, possibly prodded by President Barack Obama’s administration, are more interested in saving face than in defeating the terrorists.

No doubt the White House will insist the congressional investigation is nothing but politics. It is more, however. It is about keeping faith with the American people about government’s top responsibility - keeping us safe.

Lawmakers involved in the probe should pull out all the stops to get the facts, and get them quickly. Anyone involved in such manipulation of intelligence should be punished severely.

Americans have our own way of gauging how well the battle against terrorism is going. Unfortunately, it is in the amount of blood shed in places such as San Bernardino.

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Online:

http://bit.ly/1QMGXE6

The New York Times on blaming mental illness for gun violence.

Dec. 15

Those who oppose expanded gun-control legislation frequently argue that instead of limiting access to guns, the country should focus on mental health problems.

“People with mental illness are getting guns and committing these mass shootings,” said Paul Ryan, the speaker of the House, after the shooting in San Bernardino, Calif., early this month. And Republicans in the Senate backed mental-health legislation even as they rejected bills to require universal background checks and bar people on the terrorism watch list from buying guns.

But mass shootings represent a small percentage of all gun violence, and mental illness is not a factor in most violent acts. According to one epidemiological estimate, entirely eliminating the effects of mental illness would reduce all violence by only 4 percent. Over all, less than 5 percent of gun homicides between 2001 and 2010 were committed by people with diagnoses of mental illness, according to a public health study published this year.

Blaming mental health problems for gun violence in America gives the public the false impression that most people with mental illness are dangerous, when in fact a vast majority will never commit violence. Still, some legal changes should be made to reduce access to firearms among the small percentage of people with mental illness who are dangerous to themselves or others.

Estimates of the percentage of mass shooters who are mentally ill vary widely, as both “mass shooting” and “mental illness” can be difficult to define. One recent analysis of murderers who killed or intended to kill four or more people found that 22 percent of male killers exhibited evidence of mental illness (the share was higher among women, but the sample was much smaller). Another analysis, by the group Everytown For Gun Safety, found that in about 11 percent of shootings between January 2009 and July 2015 in which four or more people were killed, concerns about the killer’s mental health had been reported to a doctor or other authority before the crime took place.

Under federal law, people who have been involuntarily committed because of mental illness are prohibited from buying guns. The federal government relies on the states to submit records of such commitments to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, so that would-be gun buyers who have been committed will fail a background check.

In recent years, many more states have made an effort to submit such records to the federal system; the number in the databank has more than doubled since the 2012 mass shooting at a school in Newtown, Conn. After Connecticut began submitting its records in 2007, violent crime among people with disqualifying hospitalizations declined. However, getting state records is still a problem; six states have submitted fewer than 100 records.

A few states have additional prohibitions for those who have been hospitalized but not committed. California, for instance, bars those who have been involuntarily hospitalized for a short time from owning guns for five years, even if they were not committed. For people with severe mental illness who are never hospitalized, tighter gun permitting rules could help. Requiring an in-person application (like getting a driver’s license) would make it harder for them to qualify for gun ownership. In the 10 years after Connecticut passed a “permit to purchase” law requiring would-be gun buyers to pass a background check and complete a gun safety course with a certified instructor, gun homicides in the state fell by 40 percent.

In some states, the police may confiscate guns from people at risk of harming themselves or others, some of whom may be mentally ill. Between 1999 and 2009, 11 percent of confiscation warrants in Connecticut, for example, were requested as a result of “mental instability” on the part of the gun owner; by far the largest share, 46 percent, were requested because the owner showed signs of being suicidal.

All of these approaches are worth considering at the state and federal levels as part of a broader effort to reduce gun violence. And, of course, effectively diagnosing and treating mental illness is a worthy goal in itself. But addressing mental health, on its own, will not solve the country’s gun violence problem.

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Online:

http://nyti.ms/1P8f5Kw

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