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From the Desk of Assemblyman Charles Lavine: July 23, 2010

One of the very best judges I worked with when I practiced law was Michael B. Mukasey, who went on to serve with great distinction as our Attorney General under President George W. Bush. Judge Mukasey had a favorite saying: “If not for the last minute, nothing would ever get done.”

Of the six years I have been privileged to serve in the State Assembly, this is the first in which Albany has failed to deliver an on-time budget. While some might say that five out of six is not a bad average, every New Yorker has now experienced the havoc and anxiety resulting from the failure of state government to produce New York’s budget before the expiration of “the last minute.”

What I learned this year was that once the opportunity to take advantage of the last minute deadline was lost, every other important bill was either put on the back burner or became a bargaining chip to be used to negotiate the final budget.

It is ironic that this is just what Ronnie and I were discussing during a walk through the beautiful Welwyn Preserve on Sunday, July 11 when we found a Fidragon shoulder holster at the foot of a tree just east of the Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center of Nassau County.

There is absolutely no reason for anyone to have a holster without having something lethal to put in it. The fact that it did not contain a gun did not lessen my outrage. What on earth was it doing in our own Nassau County backyard?

Long before the days when I appeared before Chief Judge Mukasey of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, I was fortunate to be able to learn my trade as a public defender in New York City. One of the first criminal cases I handled involved a defendant who possessed a “zip gun.” In a tragic sense, most young people today have never heard that term describing a homemade gun. No need to know what that means when so many sophisticated handguns are far too available to criminals who can easily purchase them in a lucrative underground market.

This year’s preoccupation in Albany with efforts to complete the budget kept me from advancing my bill that will protect law-abiding citizens from criminals who possess illegal guns. Assembly Bill No. A6495 approached this murderous problem from a type of “tough love” perspective. Any criminal arrested with a gun while committing a crime has to serve an extra seven years after completing the jail sentence for the underlying crime. The criminal gets out of serving that extra seven years if he fully and honestly (to the satisfaction of law enforcement) reveals how and from whom he got the gun.

The intelligence gathered from these debriefings will enable law enforcement to investigate and prosecute the underground networks that smuggle these lethal weapons into New York. It will also help us to defeat the gangs that threaten our communities. Like the smugglers, the gangs cannot function without secrecy. The prospect of an extra seven years in jail for gang members caught with guns will be sufficient incentive. The key to beating our enemies on the local and global levels is our ability to gather intelligence. The passage of my bill will mean that someday in the not too far distant future, we won’t be finding Fidragon shoulder holsters in public parks and preserves, and innocent people won’t have to worry as much about their murderous content.

In spite of the preoccupation with the budget, there was some progress made on meaningful legislation: Major pension reform that will save the state billions of dollars because of a new Tier V, laws making it easier for our overseas troops to vote in elections and a law allowing New York to compete for billions of federal dollars for public education were enacted. Passed in both the Assembly and Senate and awaiting the Governor’s signature are important bills that will finally reform New York’s archaic divorce law and will require that insurance companies provide coverage for citizens afflicted with Autism Spectrum Disorders.

But much more could have been accomplished with the passage of a timely budget. And that is just one of the reasons I was so outraged to find that holster.