Philipstown Board Postpones Gun-Storage Vote

Backers and opponents of measure voice concerns

By Liz Schevtchuk Armstrong

After a public hearing on a draft law that requires guns at home to be locked up when their owners aren’t present, the Philipstown Town Board on Wednesday (Feb. 21) postponed a vote on the measure.

Supervisor Richard Shea said the board had “heard a lot of public comments” and wanted time to consider them.

A gun lock

The hearing filled nearly every chair in the Haldane school auditorium in Cold Spring. Before it got underway, the board held a moment of silence for the victims of the Parkland, Florida, school shooting on Feb. 14 in which 17 students and teachers died.

Most residents who spoke favored the safe-storage initiative, which demands that no firearm owner leave a gun “out of his or her possession or control in a residence” while knowing, or having reason to know, that anyone under age 18 is at home, unless the owner is also present or gives the gun “to a lawful custodian,” locks it in a container, or disables it with a lock. Penalties for violating the law, a misdemeanor, would include a fine of up to $1,000, a year’s imprisonment in the county jail, or both.

Putnam County Sheriff Robert Langley, a Philipstown resident, led the long list of attendees addressing the issue. Unlike the speakers who followed, Langley did not take sides, saying his job was “public safety … As sheriff, it is my expectation that Putnam County residents will acquire firearms lawfully. I expect that they will educate themselves and others about gun safety. And I expect that they will handle their guns responsibly, always with the safety of others foremost in their minds.”

Kathleen Zebzda accused the board of overstepping its bounds, citing a 5-4 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2008 that struck down a Washington, D.C., law that required trigger locks on rifles and shotguns.

Rally in Carmel

Activists pushing for stricter gun control following the Parkland shooting staged a candlelight vigil at the historic courthouse in Carmel on Feb. 19 with signs such as the one below, created by a volunteer for Indivisible Yorktown. The vigil was interrupted several times by counterprotestors.

“Your mandate is to do things for residents of the town we are not able to do ourselves,” such as road maintenance and recreation programs, and “to ensure the liberties of every person are protected,” she said. “Protecting myself in my home is my responsibility and right. It must not be infringed by any government or law.” She urged the board “not to pass this illegal and unconstitutional law.”

“Rendering us defenseless is not” a Town Board function, Kenn Sapeta concurred.

However, Stephen Gaba, the town’s attorney, said the law at issue in the Supreme Court decision differed significantly from the proposed Philipstown regulation, which would only apply “when you are not home. Under this law, we do not prevent people from accessing their guns.”

Some critics said the Town Board should focus not on guns but drug abuse. “We don’t have a firearms problem in this town, we have an opioid epidemic,” Rodney Dow asserted.

Town Board Member Nancy Montgomery responded that the board is addressing opioid abuse, as are other local organizations.

Claudio Marzollo described the pleas for attention to the opioid problem as “a red herring.” Concern about opioids “does not mean we cannot tackle other problems. Let’s not wait until the first kid in Philipstown gets shot.”

Sapeta faulted the Town Board for not implementing a suggestion made by gun owners in 2016, when the board first proposed the ordinance, to establish gun-safety courses in Philipstown schools and at the Recreation Department. “The board did not seize upon this opportunity” he said. “It’s upon you to contact us.”

A gun safe

Montgomery explained that such programs start with residents and recommended those interested present a proposal to the town’s Recreation Commission, as other citizens have done in getting courses offered. “We went over this with you guys” in 2016, she recalled.

Young people also joined the conversation.

“There’s no reason to be opposed to a safe-storage law,” said one, Haldane senior Mae McGrath, a non-voting advisor to the Haldane School Board. “It no way infringes on an individual’s right to bear arms and doesn’t prevent being able to use a gun for defense. There are too many deaths in this country as a result of gun violence and this law could be a step in the direction of decreasing this number.”

Karen Kapoor, a preschool teacher, said she lives in fear of having to protect her students from a gunman. “I don’t want to have to do that,” she said.

Ana Silverlink described a family tragedy when her brother, a lifetime National Rifle Association member, shot himself in front of his wife. “Guns do not save lives. Guns are made to kill,” she said. “Laws save lives.”

Lt. Mike Cappello of the New York Police Department, a lawyer and Haldane parent, also backed the proposal. He said he locks up his gun as soon as he arrives home. “It’s common sense. It’s a deadly weapon,” he said. “I think the law is constitutional.”

Steve Sterling said he had dropped his membership in the National Rifle Association because of its lack of interest in gun safety. A safe-storage law “is not a Second Amendment issue” and “it’s not gun control,” he argued. Rather, “it’s gun safety. Who can possibly have an issue with that?”

“Gun safety is public safety, and we need to stand up for public safety,” added Stacey Matson-Zuvic, of Cold Spring.

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5 Responses to "Philipstown Board Postpones Gun-Storage Vote"

  1. Virginia Buechele
    Virginia Buechele   February 23, 2018 at 9:40 am

    Sad to think common sense needs to be legislated.

    • Chris Daly   February 28, 2018 at 6:34 pm

      The very nature of civil law (aka legislation) is wholly based on a foundation of common law. Common law as in court adjudicated “case law” and commonly held practices and beliefs. Civil law simply adds the layer of writing down the common into something structured and sustainable.

      It is absolutely not sad that common sense needs to be legislated. Quite the opposite. Legislating common sense is exactly how civil societies operate.

  2. Tom Nastasi   February 23, 2018 at 10:36 am

    People should have smoke detectors. Some don’t. People should have good lighting around their houses. Some don’t. People should not have knives readily accessible for intruders. Most do. People should not have swords hanging from their walls as conversation pieces. Some do. Some people have bow and arrows hanging on walls. Some don’t. People should not get drunk and lay on their backs while sleeping in fear of throwing up and aspirating. Some do.

    Just one more. People should lock their door. Some don’t. People will do what they want to do. We see it all the time. With law on the books, with laws not on the books. If this was not such an important issue, it would sound like a Dr. Seuss book. I only hope while my gun is in its safe container at night keeping all safe from it, I don’t have to get to it quick because if I do there will be more then one person shot in my house unless the intruder gives me a head start.

  3. Donald MacDonald   February 23, 2018 at 9:42 pm

    The proposed law allows a gun owner to sleep with a loaded gun loaded under his pillow. It allows a person to keep a gun under his child’s pillow, for that matter. The law only requires safe storage if the gun owner leaves the gun at home and is not there.

    Common sense. I don’t want anyone’s gun stolen from a house when the owner is not there and used on me, my family or anyone else.

  4. Aaron Freimark   February 24, 2018 at 6:57 am

    I’m in support of the draft law, but I want a fair debate. And I’m concerned my neighbors are being lied to by the New York State Rifle and Pistol Association.

    When the town attorney read the law — how it applies only when the firearm owner was away from home — there was an audible gasp from the audience. A lot of people in attendance believed, passionately, that the draft law would have required guns to be locked up at all times, that it would clearly violate Heller and the Second Amendment.

    Why did they believe that? The opposition to this proposal was well organized. Did those organizations rely on misinformation, exaggeration or lies?

    Members and supporters of the NYSRPA and other pro-Second Amendment groups may want to ask if they were manipulated or lied to by those groups. There is a lot to lose in this debate. We all need to question the groups feeding us information, and push back — hard — against lies.