Capital Region legislators weigh in on gun legislation

Michael Gwizdala, Digital First Media

January 31, 2019

Originally published in Troy Record on January 30, 2019.

ALBANY, N.Y. — The New York State Legislature passed a sweeping set of gun bills Tuesday.

Among the measures implemented were not allowing teachers to carry guns in schools and an extension of the waiting period for those looking to buy a gun, which did not instantly pass a background check.

Also passing was a red flag bill, which enables anyone to ask a court to temporarily block a person who could be a potential risk if determined as such by a judge.

Among the bills passing in a more bipartisan fashion were a gun buyback program, the prohibited sale of bump stocks, which were used in the Las Vegas massacre, and allowing New York regulators access to mental health records out-of-state gun buyers.

Supporting the passage of the legislation package was state Sen. Neil Breslin, D-Bethlehem.

“I voted in support of a comprehensive package of gun safety legislation [Tuesday] because one more gun death is one too many. These common-sense measures aim to curb gun violence in New York, while also taking guns out of the hands of individuals who aim to harm themselves or others,” Breslin said of attempting to reduce gun violence.

Conversely, some Republicans representing the Capital Region in the Senate and Assembly cited the legislative package as an overreach on Second Amendment rights and stressed the need for stronger school safety and mental health evaluations.

“[Tuesday], my Senate Republican colleagues and I advanced a common-sense amendment to protect schoolchildren by giving schools the resources to hire an armed school resource officer, improve security and increase the number of mental health professionals to identify and address potential problems before they occur," said state Sen. Daphne Jordan, R-Halfmoon. "Our amendment made perfect sense, but, sadly, the Senate Democratic Majority rejected it.

"The Senate Democratic Majority and Governor Cuomo rammed through a package of gun control measures that were unnecessary, poorly conceived and further demonstrated their contempt for the Second Amendment. As bad and unwarranted as their latest assault on our right to keep and bear arms was, Governor Cuomo signaled his true intentions in saying that it was an ‘ongoing crusade.’ The Governor’s statement should send a chill down the spine of every gun owner because his intent is clear: even more gun control is coming. I’ll keep standing against the Senate Democratic Majority and Governor Cuomo’s push to restrict our Second Amendment freedom."

Echoing those sentiments was state Sen. Jim Tedisco, R-Glenville.

"I had to call out the simplistic approach to public safety and the hypocrisy by some of my colleagues who want all the security assets available to legislators, staff and visitors at the state Capitol, but don't want to provide those same resources to protect the soft targets at our most vulnerable populations at our schools. Instead, what they've offered [Tuesday] is legislation that provides a false sense of security and actually makes people less safe while violating New Yorkers constitutional rights," said Tedisco.

"I was proud to stand up and vote against those measures which violated our 2nd Amendment rights and did nothing to stop acts of violence. What we should be doing is passing legislation like we did last year (and my colleagues offered as an amendment this year) for funding for schools that want them for mental health evaluation and treatment, school resources officers, emergency messaging, video cameras, metal detectors, building modifications to increase safety, and raising criminal penalties for violent crimes committed on school grounds," Tedisco added.

Over in the Assembly, Assemblywoman Mary Beth Walsh, R-Ballston, also shared the thoughts of her fellow Republican colleagues in the Senate.

“This legislation would merely make it more difficult for New Yorkers to exercise their constitutional right to bear arms. To solve the problem of gun violence, we should explore alternative options like expanding mental health services and improving school safety programs. It’s time we stop punishing responsible gun owners and work together to find real solutions to our state’s problems,” Walsh said.

Attempting to strike a balanced approach was Assemblyman John McDonald III, D-Cohoes, who was not fully supportive of the entire package of legislation.

“My overall philosophy is I try and run that delicate balance of those individuals who have Second Amendment rights because many people are responsible gun owners. However, my actions of supporting the gun buyback program tries to get guns off the streets with individuals who have illegal guns and the issues in those rare instances where there’s a mental health concern, we want to make sure a person is capable of responsibly maintaining their gun. I want to reinforce, that guns [are] not removed from them unless it goes through a judicial process where the burden is on the petitioner, not the owner to make that proof and it needs to be done with medical oversight,” McDonald said.

“I did support the red flag bill because of the fact that many of our most tragic events have been at the hands of individuals who had true mental health issues. The bill does not take away an individual’s gun, but does set out a process to make sure that a professional evaluation is put in place to make sure someone who is struggling with mental health illnesses does not do something that is dangerous to the public or to themselves,” McDonald added.

McDonald said he did not support other gun-control issues.

“I did not support extending the waiting period for a license because quite honestly that should be addressed in a bipartisan manner at the federal government. I think that’s where it’s best served to actually serve the country in a much more complete fashion because people just go to another state to get the gun,” said McDonald.

On arming teachers, McDonald noted the issue should be left to communities to decide at the local level.

“I did not support the limiting of teachers being able to carry guns in schools. Let me be very clear, I do not believe teachers should have guns in schools, that being said, that is a local decision. I think school boards and administrations should work with their constituents to make that decision on a community by community basis. I wouldn’t support that, it’s not something that would fly in the Cohoes or Watervliet city school district, but in Newcomb or Waterville that are rural areas, it might be something that the community and therefore I voted against that bill because it’s a local decision,” McDonald said.

McDonald did support the gun buyback program and getting illegal guns off the streets of communities he serves.

“I did support the gun buyback program because we’ve seen some success in some of the communities that I represent, particularly in Albany and in Troy. However, there is a need for some standardization of the process because it’s a little bit of an unruly and inconsistent process and I think that’s important. Once again, it doesn’t cause any expenditure of public funds,” McDonald added.

McDonald also supported the banning of bump stocks, something which President Donald J. Trump has also voiced his support of.

“The bump stocks I did support primarily because that’s actually something that the President of the United States already put into play and therefore is consistent with federal policy,” McDonald said.

Assemblyman Jake Ashby, R-Castleton, also expressed his concerns with some of the recent bills passed.

"In the past week, we have seen a series of legislation formulated and forced by downstate progressives who control the Senate and Assembly. Last week, it was legislation allowing abortion until birth, a dramatic expansion. [Tuesday] it was a series of bills that significantly reduce our rights, particularly the Second Amendment," said Ashby in a statement.