Hilltowns chafe under new gun law, sheriff sympathizes

RENSSEALERVILLE — A day after a large rally at the state capitol against New York’s new gun-control legislation, Albany County Sheriff Craig Apple sympathized with Hilltown residents eager to repeal it.

He described some provisions as currently “unenforceable” and an infringement on Second Amendment rights as he spent hours Friday night answering questions from the nearly 200 gathered in the Medusa firehouse, hosted by the Rensselaerville Tea Party.

Despite the many problems he has with the New York Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act, Apple said he couldn’t ignore it. He was supportive of its tougher penalties for gun-related crimes, but said such crimes should also be addressed with educational programs for youth.

“It has to be a legislative change. You can’t just keep targeting your law-enforcement officers,” Apple said, later denying he would take a stance against enforcing the new law, as some in the crowd encouraged him to do.

Deborah Busch and Travis Stevens, Republican county legislators representing the Hilltowns, said they would sign a proclamation, brought by Busch, calling for the repeal of the NY SAFE Act, signed into law on Jan. 15. More than 30 counties of New York’s 62 have passed resolutions calling for a repeal.

A long-simmering national debate over gun violence erupted after the December shooting in Newtown, Conn. that resulted in the deaths of six adults and 20 children at the Sandy Hook Elementary School. A week later, a gunman killed two firefighters as they responded to a house fire in Webster, near Rochester.

The SAFE Act includes provisions specifically about school safety and the murder of first responders.

It makes numerous gun-related crimes punishable as felonies and requires registration of semi-automatic guns, with five-year recertification, among other regulatory measures. Assault, or semi-automatic, guns, which discharge an empty round and load a new one with the pull of a trigger, with at least one “military characteristic” are banned, as well as magazines holding more than seven rounds.

The rally of thousands at the Capitol on Feb. 28 drew attention to a movement to repeal or revise the law by opponents who say Governor Andrew Cuomo rushed its passage with a Message of Necessity, which waived the three-day review period the state constitution affords legislators. Detractors also say it unnecessarily affects law-abiding gun owners and doesn’t address causes of shootings like the one in Connecticut.

On Friday, Supreme Court Justice Gerald Connolly ordered the state appear in court on March 11, with primary plaintiff Robert Schulz of the group We the People Foundation challenging Cuomo’s use of a Message of Necessity. It came after two other court challenges throughout the state.

“We are going to win this in the battle of the courts,” said 

Tom Cavanagh, a Berne resident, at the Friday night meeting in Medusa. He called on audience members to write letters to editors and contact legislators for the law’s repeal. (Cavanagh’s letter appears in The Enterprise this week.)

The State Senate passed the bill with 43 votes. Eighteen of 33 Republicans were in opposition. The Assembly voted for it, 104 to 43.

Former assemblyman Jack McEneny, a longtime representative of Albany County before retiring in December, said a repeal was not likely, but revision is. A repeal would require the governor’s signature.

McEneny suggested public hearings be held and a preamble be included that outlines the law’s acknowledgement of Second Amendment rights.

“I’m listening to the police. The law enforcement have concerns. That’s something that’s being addressed,” said Assemblywoman Michelle Schimel, adding that revisions might include exceptions to the magazine capacity for police, as well as more input from mental health professionals. Schimel, who is from Nassau County, was appointed Vice Chair of the Democratic Majority Conference in January, after the SAFE Act was passed.

She said Governor Cuomo assured her that the data on the affect of the law on rates of gun-violence would be tracked.

“When we think of mass murders, what really saves lives, we think of the limitation of magazines,” said Schimel.

The argument for gun rights, McEneny said, had gone from hunting and sportsmanship in prior years towards self-defense. At the rally in Albany, he said, he saw a sign that read, “It’s not about hunting. It’s about defense.” McEneny, a Democrat, said the crowd appeared to be overwhelmingly white and male.

“Generally, what you’re going to find is you’re going to have a lower population of women at the rallies…The reason being that men are the head of the household and the main protector of the household,” David Bowdish, a coordinator for the Rensselaerville Tea Party, told The Enterprise.

Bowdish said there are other ethnicities involved besides Caucasians and the crowd in Medusa on Friday was made up of people from surrounding counties that represented concerns beyond the Tea Party. He referred to its broad membership as “we the people.”

He believes the Second Amendment gives citizens the right to whatever is necessary to protect themselves or their families.

“If someone feels they need a clip that holds 30 shells in it, then that is what they might need,” said Bowdish.

The Second Amendment, adopted in 1791 as part of the Constitution’s Bill of Rights, states, “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to bear arms, shall not be infringed.”

According to a poll released by Quinnipiac University in late January, 19 percent of respondents in urban areas said the gun legislation went “too far,” with almost 60 percent in rural areas saying so. Seventeen percent of rural respondents said it was “not far enough” and 21 percent said it was “about right.” Suburban areas had numbers in between.

“I like the variety of rural, suburban, and urban, and there’s very strong Second Amendment rights people up in the four Hilltowns, for example. But, in general, suburban and urban people are not as strong on Second Amendment rights,” said McEneny, whose district extended throughout Albany County, which Sheriff Apple said had “diverse dynamics.”

Seats were filled in the Westerlo Town Hall with dozens of people standing for the town board meeting on March 5, as many in the crowd thought a resolution supporting the repeal of the SAFE Act would be discussed. The board scheduled a March 20 public hearing on such a resolution.

Busch announced at the Westerlo meeting that she would be suggesting other Hilltowns pass similar resolutions and called on the audience to join her as she presents the proclamation to the county legislature on March 11.

Apple said he is concerned the SAFE act will create a “false sense of safety.”

“I am a mother of three,” Jennifer Duncan said, standing in front of the Medusa audience on Friday night. “I want guns in my house, because I want to protect them,” she said, referring to her children.

Apple commended her for teaching her children to appreciate guns, noting the stereotypical gun owner is old and rural. Funds should be targeted at educating youth in cities by exposing them to nature and firearms, he said.

As the questions for Apple dwindled at the meeting Friday night, the audience gave him a standing ovation.

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