Oops: Activist charged with felonies after running afoul of gun law he championed

In which a good guy with a gun could end up in jail for four years because he lobbied for a law that assumed there was no such thing as a good guy with a gun.

Meet Dwayne Ferguson of Buffalo. The 52-year-old is a well-known community activist, founder of MAD DADS (Men Against Destruction Defending Against Drugs and Social Disorder), and a public face of the SAFE act, a law passed by New York in the wake of Sandy Hook which made carrying a gun on school grounds a felony. Ferguson was at an elementary school Thursday mentoring students when the school went on lockdown because of a report of a man with a gun on campus. Ferguson guarded students in the cafeteria for hours before he and law enforcement realized the lockdown was caused… by him.

Ferguson, 52, told WGRZ-TV that he frequently carries the gun, for which he has a permit, and did not realize he had it on him when he went to the school as part of the mentoring program.

Those who have worked with him also said they believe it was an honest mistake.

“I’m sure Dwayne went into the school not thinking he had the gun on him,” said Rev. James E. Giles, a friend of Ferguson and president of Back to Basics Outreach Ministries. “We know this for a fact, that he called out to a Buffalo police lieutenant asking why the school was in lockdown, and that they were looking for a man with a gun.

“Dwayne’s reaction was to get his kids – he had about 50 of them – and make sure they were safe,” Giles explained. “He led them into the cafeteria and closed the doors.”

Giles, like Ferguson, is a member of Buffalo Peacemakers, an anti-violence coalition that targets gang-related street crime.

Ferguson is a security guard outside of his work in schools and he frequently carries a legally permitted firearm. Now, once Ferguson was ensared by the SAFE Act, the gun-control activists who know him began to sound a lot like gun-rights activists.

“The more they make these gun-free zones, the more they make people vulnerable to mass killers like at Columbine and Sandy Hook,” said Stephen J. Aldstadt, a Colden resident who serves as president of the state Shooters Committee on Political Education.

Some of Ferguson’s supporters echoed similar criticism, saying that carrying a weapon meant Ferguson could have helped police in the event there was a gunman actually threatening students.

“Dwayne probably was in a position to help the police not knowing that he was the one they were looking for,”
said George Johnson, president of Buffalo United Front.

And, this is what it looks like when gun regulations trip up otherwise law-abiding citizens— something about which gun-rights activists are always warning.

Ferguson, at the time of SAFE Act’s passage, thought people like him should be punished even more severely:

News 4 interviewed Ferguson in March of 2013 at a rally in support of the NY SAFE Act. At the time, Ferguson stated the law did not go far enough.

“Our kids are not buying assault weapons, they’re buying pistols and they’re buying them right out of community stores and back here in the school. So this is serious. It needs to go further than what it is,” he said.

It’s easy to get schadenfreudy about this, but I really don’t think the state should be spending money going after this guy, prosecuting and possibly imprisoning him. On the other hand, the rule of law requires he answer for this alleged crime— one for which he himself lobbied to eliminate the possibility of lenience. What would be the reasoning for letting him off the hook? There’s explicitly no exemption for “no ill intent” in the SAFE Act. Merely having a legal gun makes one a criminal. Perhaps the best-case scenario is that Ferguson goes through the system, the jury and judge make their call, and maybe a few more activists will think twice about laws they pass in the future.