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gun control

State Sen. John Flanagan. File photo

The New York State Legislature is working to make schools safer in the aftermath of the Feb. 14 shooting at a Florida high school. But the Republican-held Senate and Democrat-majority Assembly are not yet on the same page in figuring out how to accomplish the goal.

The Senate passed a package of bills March 6 aimed at improving school safety through various security-related measures. After a package of gun legislation bills — which included measures to create a stronger background check process, ban bump stocks or accessories that increase a semi-automatic weapon’s rate of fire, establish extreme risk protection orders, and more — brought forward by Senate Democrats failed in late February, the Assembly also passed a package of bills March 6 designed to strengthen gun laws. Several of the bills in the Assembly package were the same as versions voted down in the Senate. It remains to be seen if either house will pass their counterparts respective packages.

Bellone announces school safety initiative

Schools in Suffolk County will now be offered a permanent eye in the sky.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) announced the SHARE initiative March 9, a program that will allow districts the ability to connect existing camera systems directly to the Suffolk County Police Department. The system would enhance the efficiency of a police department response to an active shooter situation, according to a press release from Bellone’s office.

“We will do whatever it takes to protect our schools by utilizing every available tool and partnership at our disposal,” the county executive said in a statement. “The SHARE initiative will provide law enforcement the enhanced capabilities needed to respond to a security risk, and I look forward to working with our superintendents and stakeholders on how we can keep our schools safe.”

The county will hold a meeting of all school district superintendents March 15 to formally seek voluntary consent with the districts interested in the program.

“We have been preparing and training for the nightmare scenario that we hope never happens,” District Attorney Tim Sini (D) said in a statement. “In the police department, we enhanced our readiness for an active shooter scenario or a terrorist attack, but most importantly to take measures to prevent those incidents.”

“I have every hope that we can walk and chew gum at the same time because these are not mutually exclusive directions, and they are very complementary,” Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) said in an interview. The Assemblyman said he hadn’t had a chance to fully study the package of bills passed in the Senate yet, but at first glance it included some initiatives he’d be comfortable supporting. “I would just appeal to my colleagues in the Senate to meet us halfway, and I would pledge to do the same for them. I think we all should keep our eye on what the objective is here, which is to save lives and ultimately there is no single measure that is going to be an omnibus solve.”

The passed Senate package includes a bill authorizing districts to receive state funding to hire a school resource officer, defined in the bill to include retired or active duty police officers, deputy sheriffs or state troopers. They would be permitted to carry firearms on school grounds if licensed to do so. Another bill increased the earnings limitations for retired police officers being employed by schools from $30,000 annually to $50,000. A bill was also included in the package that will provide state education aid to districts for acquiring safety technology and improving security.

“Schools must be safe havens, where students can learn and teachers can teach,” Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan (R-East Northport) said in a statement. “In New York, we must act swiftly and decisively to implement additional measures in schools throughout our state to give students, parents, and teachers the resources and peace of mind that they deserve.”

The Senate’s package also had components designed to improve school-based mental health services. One bill allocates districts $50,000 in state funding to put towards hiring a mental health services coordinator, while another requires the state Department of Education to investigate and report on the number of full and part-time school counselors, school social workers and school psychologists in each school; the ratio of students to the number of school counselors; the ratio of students to the number of school social workers; the ratio of students to the number of school psychologists in each school; and when such staff is working in more than one school.

As part of the package, another bill was passed defining school shootings as an act of terrorism, which now makes the New York State Intelligence Center in cooperation with the state Division of Homeland Security responsible for the collection, integration, receipt, processing, evaluation, analysis, fusing, dissemination, sharing, and maintenance of intelligence information to aid in detecting, preventing, investigating and responding to acts of terrorism, including school shootings. Now suspects who discharge a firearm within 1,000 feet of a school can be charged with committing an act of terrorism.

The bills in the Senate’s package passed with overwhelming, bipartisan support in most cases. They will now head to the Assembly before arriving, if passed, at Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) desk for signing into law.

The package that passed the Assembly, if eventually passed by the Senate and signed by Cuomo, would temporarily prohibit individuals from purchasing or possessing guns if a family member or law enforcement officer petitions a court and the court finds individuals are likely to engage in conduct that would harm themselves or others.

It also would establish a 10-day waiting period before a gun may be delivered to a purchaser who has not cleared a background check. Under current federal law, gun dealers must conduct a background check through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System before selling a firearm. The NICS system responds with one of three messages — “proceed,” “denied” or “delayed.” The dealer must deny the sale if the NICS background check determines the buyer is a prohibited purchaser and responds with a “denied” message. However, if the response is “delayed,” the dealer may nonetheless complete the sale after three business days.

Also included in the package is a bill preventing convicted domestic abusers from purchasing or possessing a firearm.

Spokespersons for Flanagan and state Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) did not immediately respond to a request for comment asking if they intend to support the package of legislation passed by the Assembly.

In a July 2017 tweet, U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin insisted he’d ‘married up’ when his wife Diana asked him to take their date to the shooting range. Photo from Twitter

By Ernestine Franco

We’ve seen a number of letters in this paper where you [U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley)] expound on all the great things you’ve done for your district. However, it seems to me that you either have forgotten
about or don’t want us to know some of your votes and issues you’ve supported, especially relating
to gun control.

The horrific events at the Parkland high school in Florida happened because a 19-year-old was able to walk into the school with an AR-15-style rifle, which he legally bought, and murder 17 people. Some of the children who survived the shooting, the deadliest school shooting since Sandy Hook, are speaking out: “How are we allowed to buy guns at the age of 18 or 19? That’s something we shouldn’t be able to do,” Lyliah Skinner, a student who survived the shooting, told CNN.

Beginning with the attack at Columbine High School in Colorado in 1999, life for many of our children has become about practicing active shooter drills and huddling through lockdowns. So I have to wonder about your position on gun control. I question whether you care about what many children now have to deal with when they go to school.

On Jan. 14, 2014, after the Newtown massacre, in a letter to the New York State Senate, you wrote, “This debate should be even more focused on targeting illegal guns and providing maximum assistance to New Yorkers with mental illnesses in order to most directly avoid another tragedy like Newtown. Our focus …  has to be providing people in need of mental health care more access to help. Society as a whole also needs to better understand mental illness and develop improved means of detecting potential violence long before it can become a threat to anyone else.”

So it seems you believe the solution to some of these mass shootings is that we need to better detect problems with the mentally ill rather than ensure that people with mental illness cannot buy a gun? Then please explain why you voted “yes” on the bill to nullify the Obama-era rule that prohibited people with severe mental health issues from purchasing guns?

Granted there was lots of evidence that the shooter’s behavior should have triggered alarm in those around him, but it is unclear whether recognizing and trying to deal with the signs would have changed what this young man wanted to do that day. However, it is clear that if he couldn’t buy an AR-15, he more than likely could not have been able to kill 17 people. So, I ask you, will you support a ban on assault-style weapons?

The day after the school shooting in Florida, in a Facebook post, you expressed sympathy for the victims and their parents. Taking President Donald Trump’s lead, however, you never used the word “gun,” as if the carnage were just about the person.

According to MoveOn.org, you have received $33,732 from the National Rifle Association. So, here, I have to again wonder whether your views on gun control have more to do with gun sales than with gun rights. The majority of Americans, even most gun owners, as well as the majority of Republicans, support enhanced background checks as well as a ban on assault-style weapons. Why don’t you? Is it about the money you can get from the NRA rather than what most people want? What’s more important to you: That anyone, even someone who is mentally ill, should be able to buy an AR-15 or ensuring that our children are kept safe?

On Dec. 6 you co-sponsored H.R. 38 — the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act of 2017. This act authorizes someone who holds a concealed-carry permit issued in one state to carry a concealed firearm in any state that also authorizes concealed carry of firearms. This bill overrides federal law concerning the concealed carry of a firearm into a school zone or onto a federally owned property.

In case I have misrepresented any of your positions, and if you are really committed to keeping our children — and your own — safe, how about holding an in-person  town hall meeting so we can
discuss these issues?

Ernestine Franco is a Sound Beach resident and proofreader for TBR News Media. She is also a member of the Sound Beach Civic Association.

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We’ve been here before. A shooter kills and maims unarmed, innocent American citizens, and according to the people elected to represent us, it’s never quite the right time to discuss gun control.

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) told us last week, now “is not the time to jump to some conclusion,” adding the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, was not about guns, but about “pure evil.”

We’re glad students from the high school have rebuked Ryan and his ilk who, as a church sign in Australia put it over the weekend, “love guns more than their kids.” If students who experienced the horror in Florida Feb. 14 firsthand are ready to talk about change, we’re with them.

However, we’ll go along with the speaker’s flawed premise and offer some thoughts about the latest mass shooting in the United States without politicizing the discussion:

• First, let’s honor the heroes who put themselves in harm’s way, some, making the ultimate sacrifice for their colleagues and classmates. While many have heard of teacher Scott Beigel, 35, who grew up in Dix Hills and died shielding students from gunfire, have you heard of Anthony Borges? Anthony is a 15-year-old student fighting for his life who saved 20 lives as he attempted to close and lock a classroom door. He was shot five times — in both legs, his upper left thigh and his back. His thigh bone was shattered.

• Are all threats taken seriously? A neighbor reported the shooter’s social media account to the FBI in January, making note of his “gun ownership, desire to kill people, erratic behavior and disturbing social media posts, as well as the potential of him conducting a school shooting,” a statement from the FBI read. But nothing was done. Every single hostile message, no matter how small, needs to be noted and handled accordingly. Police need to investigate every threat or mention of harm or disturbance, while schools and their therapists should monitor every student suspect from then on out.

• We are extremely impressed by the grace and maturity students from the high school have displayed in their public thoughts on the tragedy. Lasting change being brought about by young voices should be what America is all about. While many had lost hope, grieving students cried out. Yes, it was a terrible tragedy that should never have happened, as is said each and every time a mass shooting occurs, but again nothing is being done. This is why there are plans for a March For Our Lives stomp on March 24 in Washington, D.C., where the people will bring the power. “We are up here standing together, because if all our government and president can do is send thoughts and prayers, then it’s time for the victims to be the change that we need to see,” said 18-year-old Emma González. We admire the Parkland high school senior, and the many other students who took to podiums to voice their opinions, concerns and anger. They have a right to be mad, and even more, a right to be heard. David Hogg, a 17-year-old student who survived the shooting, had a similar, strong message to legislators: “Politicians and more importantly the American public must take action if we’re going to prevent the next shooting. To elected officials I say this, ‘Don’t lie to us. Don’t make any more false promises, because when you do, children die.’” He called the time a turning point in American history “where students stand up and speak out — when the politicians won’t.” We hope to see that happen. In the face of division, standing up is not for any political agenda but for the lives of the innocent, like young school children.

As Emma González said, and, yes, now we’ll talk about guns: “They say that tougher gun laws do not decrease gun violence. We call B.S.” So do we, Emma.

Members of Gays Against Guns protest against U. S. Rep. Lee Zeldin. Photo from Duncan Osborne

An anti-gun advocacy group put a North Shore lawmaker in its crosshairs over the weekend when members protested outside his office.

Gays Against Guns — a nonprofit organization made up of lesbian, gay and transgender people and others who believe in a ban of high-capacity magazine guns and assault weapons, stricter background checks and online gun sales — held a protest in Smithtown over the weekend.

The group said they chose to rally in front of the office of U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) because they believe he is a “puppet” for the NRA and hasn’t worked enough to create legislation that effectively limits the use of guns.

Zeldin said protestors are not focusing on the real issue, which is preventing terrorists from getting firearms without limiting Americans’ constitutional rights.

Duncan Osborne, a member of Gays Against Guns, said he believes Zeldin doesn’t have an interest in regulating firearms. He also criticized Zeldin’s Protect America Act of 2015. The bill would grant the attorney general authority to deny firearms and explosives to individuals who are engaged in terrorist activities or where there is a reasonable belief that an individual may use a firearm or explosive in connection with terrorism.

“His piece of legislation is little more than a Band-Aid,” Osborne said in a phone interview. “He has made no serious effort to get it passed. His bill was a joke to make Republicans look like they’re doing something on gun regulation when in fact it is nearly impossible to implement.”

A member of Gays Against Guns holds up a puppet of U. S. Rep. Lee Zeldin during a protest. Photo from Duncan Osborne
A member of Gays Against Guns holds up a puppet of U. S. Rep. Lee Zeldin during a protest. Photo from Duncan Osborne

Zeldin said the issue is being influenced by politics.

“It’s unfortunate that the Democratic Party and their most loyal supporters are politicizing this issue and [the] bill to keep firearms and explosives out of the hands of terrorists,” he said in an email, according to spokesperson Jennifer DiSiena.

When Zeldin first introduced the bill last year, he said the legislation would “help prevent terrorists from purchasing firearms or explosives, while putting in place safeguards to ensure that the rights of law abiding Americans are protected.”

According to Congress’ website, the bill was referred to the House Judiciary Committee in Dec. 2015, and then referred to the Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations in Jan. 2016. The bill currently has 14 Republican co-sponsors.

Gays Against Guns also criticized Zeldin’s connections to the NRA, calling him a puppet for the organization, and the NRA his puppet master.

“We don’t think he belongs in Congress,” Osborne said. “He has no interest in regulating firearms.”

New Yorkers Against Gun Violence, another nonprofit organization that participated in the protest, agreed Zeldin should leave office.

“They’ve got to go if we’re ever going to pass the kind of meaningful gun regulation,” Executive Director of NYAGV Leah Gunn Barrett said in a statement.

DiSiena said Zeldin is fighting to support and protect his constituents.

“His positions are not for sale to anyone,” DiSiena said in an email. “If these disrupters want to actually keep Americans safe, they would work with Congressman Zeldin as opposed to launching highly partisan protests against him. These groups should unite behind Congressman Zeldin’s efforts if their genuine intentions are to keep terrorists from being able to purchase firearms.”

According to GovTrack, Zeldin was among the highest 10 percent of House Republicans joining bipartisan bills in 2015 and supporting progressive ideology.