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Serving the communities of Jefferson, St. Lawrence and Lewis counties, New York
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Shared values

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The annual survey by the Center for Community Studies at Jefferson Community College expanded the range of issues examined in its 14th report by including a look at attitudes about the controversial gun control act enacted in Albany in January.

Overall, the survey reveals that Jefferson County residents support the legislation, finding that a substantial portion of the community — as many as 97 percent of one group of respondents — favored the new law’s requirements for background checks when guns are sold.

Even gun owners — more than half the respondents said they had a gun in their home — said they supported background checks when assault or non-assault weapons were sold.

Overall, half of the respondents felt the SAFE Act went too far, while 65 percent of gun owners said the act over-reached. However, when asked about repeal of the law, county residents were ambivalent. Researchers said that the most common answer to the question of whether to repeal the law was no. Not even a majority of gun owners wanted the law rescinded. The results in Jefferson County are consistent with statewide attitudes found by Siena College. The Siena Poll said only 40 percent of participants across New York endorsed repeal.

The poll contrasts with the vigorous and vocal opposition in the north country, where pro-gun rallies have been organized, lobbying trips to Albany executed and loud political rhetoric expended. The enthusiasm of pro-gun advocates made it seem there was no other opinion. The survey shows otherwise. In fact, the center’s study has been criticized by some who question the validity of its results to the gun control questions.

The statistics are a help as people sort through the impact of the SAFE Act and they reflect thoughtful reactions to some of the initiatives of the law. The substantial support for background checks is surprising and is reinforced by the reluctance of respondents to demand killing the whole law. It is apparent that Jefferson County residents are in the main stream of New York political thought on gun control. They are ready to accept the restrictions of background checks as necessary. What does infuriate gun owners is not reflected in the questions asked by the center. Gun owners are chaffing about the restrictions on purchasing ammunition, arguing that the new rules make it very challenging to legally purchase ammunition to use for target and skeet shooting. These rules may impact tournaments that attract shooters from across the country who find it impossible to buy ammunition when they arrive in New York.

The general support for background checks may be the fact that those surveyed understand the responsibility which comes with owning a gun. They know that guns must be handled carefully and are not toys. And they themselves are not criminals and would never provide a gun to someone incapable of understanding the obligations that gun ownership brings.

Despite the grudging acceptance of the SAFE Act, Gov. Cuomo’s insistence on passing the legislation may be a part of the reason that his popularity has declined. Peaking in his second year in office, positive perceptions of him fell this last year. Fewer people rated the governor as doing a good or fair job. His poor performance rating more than doubled from last year. The decline in support comes despite the survey’s report that county residents are enthused about improvement in the housing market, which to a large extent has been driven by the governor and state incentives.

The center’s effort to appraise the local reaction to a statewide issue is positive and should help our state legislators carry appropriate messages to Albany. The poll’s methodology is proven, its results accurate for the time they were taken and those results should be taken seriously. And they remind us all that we are New Yorkers who share common values.

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