The gun debate continued on in Rockland Tuesday night, as the Rockland County Legislature voted on multiple gun-related resolutions in front of a packed crowd.
The legislators voted against a resolution urging federal and state representatives to institute policy and legislative reforms with respect to gun control and increased mental health services. A resolution requesting the state to repeal certain aspects of the New York SAFE Act passed later in the meeting.
One clause in the first amendment seemed to be a holdup for some of the legislators who voted against it. In the resolution, one part asked to reinstate the federal ban on the sale, import, transfer and ownership of assault weapons. Legislator Frank Sparaco proposed an amendment to the resolution removing that clause, but it didn’t pass. More legislators voted in favor of the amendment, with eight voting in favor and seven voting against. Two legislators, Ed Day and Patrick Moroney, were absent from the meeting, leaving only 15 present. Nine legislators must vote in favor of an amendment for it to go through, so the clause was left in.
Sparaco’s problem with that part of the resolution was that he didn’t think many of his colleagues could actually define what an assault weapon is.
“This is a very important issue that you’re pushing forward here, and when a lot of these people spoke today, they used terms that I know a lot of you don’t even know what they’re saying or talking about,” he said.
The legislators who voted against the amendment were Harriet Cornell, Michael Grant, Jay Hood, Nancy Low-Hogan, Aney Paul, Philip Soskin and Alden Wolfe.
With the assault weapons portion of the resolution left in, eight voted against it. Those who voted against the resolution were Legislators Sparaco, Soskin, Chris Carey, Toney Earl, Doug Jobson, Joseph Meyers, John Murphy and Ilan Schoenberger.
The resolution on the SAFE Act was brought to the Public Safety Committee last week and was sponsored by Day and Carey. At Tuesday’s meeting, Sparaco proposed to amend and replace the resolution, but didn’t give his changes to the other legislators until earlier Tuesday afternoon. Legislator Jay Hood, chair of the Public Safety Committee, originally didn’t accept the proposed amendment, saying he’d rather wait on it and vet the amendment in committee before voting on it.
The original resolution proposed a few changes to the SAFE Act, including:
- Active and retired law enforcement personnel will be exempt from provisions restricting magazine capacity to no more than seven rounds
- Common sense exemptions for law enforcement training should be included in sale of ammunition
- Definition of assault weapon is too broad and needs to be more clearly defined
- Local law enforcement should be fully included in review and implementation of school safety plans
Sparaco said his amendment builds off the original resolution. In his amendment, Sparaco asked the state legislature to hold public hearings on gun violence.
While Tuesday’s meeting wasn’t a public hearing, every legislature meeting has 40 minutes in the agenda for public comments. At the meeting, 23 people spoke during the public comments section, all of them speaking about against the SAFE Act. Former legislator Gerold Bierker said the laws shouldn’t come after guns, but instead deal with the debilitated underfunded mental health system and lax judicial activity.
“Incarcerate bad guys and leave law-abiding citizens alone,” he said.
Stan Pascoo, president of the United Sportsmen Association of Rockland, said the cities with the strictest gun laws also have the most gun-related killings.
“Chicago last year had over 500, New York City just shy of 500. That’s 1,000 in two cities,” he said. “In an active warzone, like Afghanistan, there were about 300 combat deaths, so it must be safer to be in Afghanistan than in a gun-free zone like Chicago.”
John Pinto, president of the Rockland County Shields, said the SAFE Act’s lack of an exclusion for new gun restrictions in regards to law enforcement is an oversight that needs correcting.
“This needs to be changed, it needs to be adopted to respect our police officers and law enforcement members,” he said. “I can’t speak for all the non law enforcement members here, we’re on the same page, but I’m speaking for my members.”
Even those who didn’t sign up to speak let their voices be heard at the meeting. Throughout the meeting, many times people in the crowd yelled out, sometimes in support and others times in defense, while legislators were speaking. At one point Hood told the crowd that every time someone yelled out a snide comment from the crowd, it hurt the eloquent and thoughtful reasoning many of their peers were giving up at the podium earlier in the meeting.
Not all legislators support Sparaco’s amendment, though. The amendment itself passed, 11-4, with Cornell, Hood, Grant and Low-Hogan voting against. The amended resolution passed, 10-5, with Cornell, Grant, Hood, Low-Hogan and Wolfe voting against it. Wolfe said he could’ve gotten behind the original resolution, but felt the amended one strayed too far from his thoughts on the issue.
“I don’t have the ability to offer any amendment to this resolution as it’s currently drafted that would make it satisfactory for me,” he said.
He cited a few specific problems he had with the amendment, including wording in the amendment that implied the state legislators were forced to vote on the SAFE Act, and registering firearms is an unnecessary burden. He also took issue with a clause in the amended resolution that asked members who represent any or all parts of Rockland at the state level to write in with their views on the SAFE Act.