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Gun Violence

Anthony Figliola (left) and Nick LaLota (right) tackled a range of issues during Monday’s Zoom debate. LaLota’s photo from candidate’s websites; Figliola’s from candidate

Two candidates took to the virtual debate stage on Monday, Aug. 8, as the Republican primary contest for New York’s 1st Congressional District ramps up to succeed Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY1), who is a state gubernatorial candidate.

Hosted by the League of Women Voters of the Hamptons, Shelter Island, and the North Fork, declared Republican congressional candidates Anthony Figliola, of East Setauket, and Nick LaLota, of Amityville, squared off for the second time. The debate moderator was Estelle Gellman, who asked questions that were submitted in advance by the public. The third candidate in the race, Michelle Bond, declined the invitation to participate, according to Gellman.

The winner of the Republican primary race will likely face Suffolk County Legislator Bridget Fleming (D-Noyac), the presumptive Democratic nominee, in the general election this November.

Introductions

Figliola was born and raised in Rocky Point and currently resides in East Setauket. After serving as deputy supervisor of the Town of Brookhaven, he is executive vice president of a government relations and economic development business, according to his website. He said he entered the race due to a sense of frustration with Washington, which he believes has neglected ordinary citizens.

“People are hurting tremendously,” he said. “What’s happening is that Washington is not listening to them. I’m a regular working-class individual. Our family, we’re in the struggle with you. We understand what’s going on and I think we need someone who’s a regular, working-class person that’s going to fight for the people of this district.”

LaLota is the designated candidate for both the Republican and Conservative parties of Suffolk County. After graduating from the United States Naval Academy, he was deployed three times overseas and is a former Suffolk County Board of Elections commissioner. He said he is running to address the numerous complex issues facing the nation.

“There are important issues that we need to tackle as a nation,” he said. “Issues with respect to the economy, inflation, public safety, the border, protecting our constitutional freedoms — I’m eager to tackle those issues in Congress. There are good Republican and Conservative solutions to each one of those issues.”

Gun violence

After a proliferation of recent mass shootings around the country, the candidates were asked whether they would support additional restrictions on access to firearms, such as a ban on assault weapons or high capacity magazines. 

As a gun owner, Figliola expressed his support for the Second Amendment and added that the majority of gun owners act safely.

“We have some very insane people that are committing these horrendous and heinous crimes,” he said. “I don’t believe we should be throwing the baby out with the bath water.”

Figliola said the issue of mass shootings is a matter of enforcement rather than additional restrictions. To curb mass violence, he believes that the laws on the books should be enforced and that illegal guns should be targeted and removed.

“The issue here is that we are not enforcing the laws,” he said. “When you go to places like Buffalo and that horrendous mass shooting — a shooting of 10 people — there were all these laws that the Democrats and Kathy Hochul, our governor, put in place and they said that that was supposed to stop mass shootings and it didn’t.” He also advocated for adding armed security in schools and for “a solution with mental health, but not going after law-abiding gun owners.”

LaLota said that the majority of gun crimes are committed with unregistered firearms. Like Figliola, he favored tougher enforcement of existing laws. Given his background, he suggests that he has a unique understanding and appreciation for responsible gun ownership.

“I’m a legal gun owner,” he said. “I grew up in a law enforcement family with a deep respect for the Second Amendment and for safely operating a firearm. I furthered that understanding as an officer in the military, where I learned to safely handle firearms.”

For LaLota, the problem of gun safety is closely tied to the issue of criminal justice reform. “In New York, we’re living in tough times with this bail reform law,” he said. “We have some folks out on the streets who should not be out on the streets.” He added, “It’s not a fact of not having enough laws. It’s a fact of not enforcing the laws that are on the books right now.”

Abortion

The recent Dobbs decision out of the U.S. Supreme Court, which overturned Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, has placed a cloud of uncertainty over the future of abortion access nationwide. When asked whether they would support legislation that would legalize abortion nationally, they each declined, opting instead to limit the existing abortion laws in the state.

“The recent Supreme Court decision, which gave the power back to the states and thereby the people, is good,” LaLota said. “This gives the maximum amount of power to we, the people, to hold the politicians accountable and have a policy that comports [with] their values.”

He referred to the existing abortion policies in New York as “radical,” suggesting that the state should modify its abortion laws to eliminate late-term abortions.

“We should celebrate life,” LaLota said, adding, “And the way that we celebrate life is by protecting it. I think that in New York, abortion should be on the ballot this November. We should ask every state assemblymember, every state senator and every candidate for governor: Would you support the repeal of the third trimester abortion provision?”

Figliola also supported the Dobbs decision. He argued that the decision-making power to regulate abortions should be in the hands of the people and their elected representatives rather than the Supreme Court.

“I believe that this current court got it right in giving it back to the states because the court should not be in a position to be legislating,” he said. “As a strict constitutionalist, it is the people who elect their representatives, petition their members of Congress and their state legislatures, and they choose what they want to vote on.”

Figliola favored drastic changes to existing abortion laws. “The reality is there shouldn’t be abortions at all,” he said. “On Long Island, between the ages of 18 and 24, we have a third of pregnancies that end in abortion. This is horrendous.” He added, “History is going to look back on us and they’re going to look very unkindly on us that we’re not choosing life — and not just the life of that child but the life of that mother and the hope and the amazing life that the two of them could live.”

Public health

The threat of COVID-19 remains a priority even two years after the height of the pandemic. Both candidates were asked whether they would favor mask mandates, quarantines or mandatory proof of vaccination for public events. In addition, they were asked to provide the steps that the federal government should take to promote the health of American citizens.

LaLota emphasized the importance of providing accurate information to the public while also empowering citizens to make their own health decisions.

“The federal government should allow people to have access to real, reliable information and people should be able to make decisions on their own,” he said. “I would be tremendously against any sort of federal law or federal mandate involving these sorts of health issues.”

Figliola condemned what he called “unconstitutional mandates,” which, according to him, have put people out of work. Regarding potential solutions, he suggests that the federal government begins to put together an endgame strategy for the postpandemic United States.

“I think that the pandemic, by and large, is over,” he said. “We’re now in the ‘endemic’ stages of things, and I think politicians want to find a way to control the people. They’re using the pandemic or whatever the next variant is to try to make people subservient.” He continued, “It’s people’s own individual rights to decide what they want to do with their body, with their children, with their health care — and we’re moving away from that.”

To watch the entire nearly one-hour debate, visit the SeaTv Southampton YouTube channel.

Photo from Stony Brook Medicine

By Daniel Dunaief

[email protected]

While looking after the physical and mental well-being of patients who come in for care, Suffolk County hospitals are also focused on protecting staff, patients and visitors from the kind of violence that has spread recently throughout the country.

Over the past six months, hospital security staff and administrators have added a host of procedures to enhance safety and are considering additional steps.

“New measures have been put in place to minimize risk and better secure our buildings from a variety of threats,” Frank Kirby, Catholic Health Service line manager, wrote in an email. Catholic Health includes St. Catherine of Siena in Smithtown and St. Charles in Port Jefferson, among others.

“All Catholic Health facilities have an ‘active shooter’ contingency policy, which includes training for our employees on what to do in such an event,” Kirby wrote.

Executives at several health care facilities shared specific measures they have put in place.

The safe room

“Over the last six months or so, we have created something called the safe room,” said Dr. Michel Khlat, director at St. Catherine of Siena. Inside that room, hospital staff can hide and can find emergency items, like a door stop, medical supplies, gauze and first aid equipment.

St. Catherine recommends putting all the tables down in the safe room and hiding.

Khlat added that the hospital recommends that staff not open a door where another staff member knocks, in case a criminal is squatting nearby, waiting for access to the hospital.

Kirby added that Catholic Health facilities actively conducts drills across their hospitals, medical buildings and administrative offices to “sharpen our preparedness for any potential crisis that could impact safety and security.”

Catholic Health hospitals have onsite security guards and field supervisors who have prior military or law enforcement experience, Kirby added.

Northwell Health

As for Northwell Health, which includes Huntington Hospital, Scott Strauss, vice president of Corporate Security at Northwell, said the hospitals have an armed presence that includes many former and active law enforcement officers.

Strauss himself is a retired New York Police Department officer who, as a first responder on 9/11, rescued a Port Authority officer trapped by the fall of the World Trade Center.

Northwell is researching the possibility of installing a metal detection system.

Strauss suggested that the security program could not be successful without the support of senior leadership.

He suggested that staff and visitors can play a part in keeping everyone safe by remaining vigilant, as anyone in a hospital could serve as the eyes and ears of a security force.

The security staff has relied on their 15 to 35 years of experience to deescalate any potentially violent situations, Strauss said.

Northwell hospitals also offer guidance to staff for personal relationships that might
be dangerous.

“People don’t realize they’re in a poor relationship, they might think it’s normal,” Strauss said.

Across social media and the Internet, the communications team at Northwell monitors online chatter to search for anything that might be threatening.

“We evaluate it and notify the police as needed,” said Strauss.

Aggressive behavior

Strauss urged people who see something threatening online to share it with authorities, either at the hospitals or in the police force. “You can’t take a chance and let that go,” he said.

At this point, Northwell hasn’t noticed an increase in threats or possible security concerns. It has, however, seen an increase in aggressive behavior at practices and in
the hospitals.

In those situations, the security team investigates. They offer to get help, while making it clear that “threatening in any way, shape or form is not tolerated,” Strauss said. “There could be consequences” which could include being dismissed from the practice and filing police reports, Strauss said.

Anecdotally, Strauss believes Northwell has seen an increase in police reports.

When the draft of the Supreme Court’s decision that will likely overturn Roe vs. Wade, the landmark 1973 case that made it unconstitutional for states to restrict abortions, became public, Strauss was concerned about the potential backlash for health care providers.

So far, Strauss said gratefully, Northwell hasn’t seen any violence or threats related to the pending decision.

Stony Brook

Stony Brook University Hospital has an accredited and armed law enforcement agency on campus, in addition to a team of trained public safety personnel within the hospital, explained Lawrence Zacarese, vice president for Enterprise Risk Management and chief security officer at Stony Brook University.

Zacarese indicated that university officers are extensively trained in active shooter response protocols and are prepared to handle other emergency situations.

He added that the staff looks for ways to enhance security.

“Our training and security activities are continuous, and we are committed to exploring additional opportunities to maintain a safe and secure environment,” he explained in an email.

Kirby of Catholic Health Security suggested that hospitals do “more than provide care for surgical and medical inpatients. They also need to guarantee safety for all who enter our grounds.”

Suffolk County Sheriff Errol Toulon Jr. speaks at the 2019 Sandy Hook Promise Gala. Photo from Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office

By Donna Deedy

People are calling for reform after the recent onslaught of mass shootings that included an elementary school massacre in Uvalde, Texas, where 19 young children and two teachers were gunned down in their classroom with an automatic assault rifle.

“We’re seeing an absolute epidemic and the loss and slaughter of innocence and it has to stop,” said New York State Assemblyman Steven Englebright (D-Setauket). Corporate greed, he said, has mixed into a movement that has become very confused. “People are identifying with weapons.”

Englebright pointed out Gov. Kathy Hochul’s (D) response to the latest school tragedy. According to a June 6 press release, she “signed a landmark legislative package to immediately strengthen the state’s gun laws, close critical loopholes exposed by shooters in Buffalo and Uvalde and protect New Yorkers from the scourge of gun violence.”

What exactly can a person do to reverse the gun violence epidemic that is plaguing the nation?  

The nonprofit group Sandy Hook Promise has outlined a comprehensive response to that very question. Founded by some of the parents whose first graders were murdered in their Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, in 2012, the group has taken a holistic approach to the situation and they say they are leading out of love. Their programs combine community awareness and mental health research with effective prevention strategies, while separately advocating for sensible, bipartisan gun safety policies. 

“Take your heartache, your fear, your anger and sadness, and channel them into action,” said Nicole Hockley and Mark Barden, co-founders and CEOs of Sandy Hook Promise, who each lost a son in the Newtown tragedy. “We must take action today and every day until this epidemic of violence ends.”

So far, more than 14 million people and 23,000 schools nationwide have participated in Sandy Hook Promise programs, according to their website, which has led to 115,000 anonymous tips and reportedly resulted in 321 confirmed lives saved with crisis interventions.

Here in Suffolk County, Sheriff Errol Toulon Jr. (D) launched Sandy Hook Promise’s Know the Signs initiative in 2018, his first year in office. 

“After the shooting in Parkland, Florida, I made school safety a priority for the Sheriff’s Office,” Toulon said.

Over the last few years, county officers have trained more than 30,000 students, teachers and staff with Sandy Hook’s methods. Miller Place, East Islip, Central Islip, Lindenhurst and Bridgehampton are a few school districts that have participated in the program.

Toulon said he’s proud to have partnered with the Sandy Hook foundation and encourages more people to participate in its lifesaving movement. 

“Now, more than ever, programs like Sandy Hook Promise are needed as school threats are on the rise,” he said.

TBR News Media reached out to few school districts in our circulation area for comments on their programs. Through their public relations firm, Smithtown Central School District preferred not participate in the story but it posts position papers on mental health and social and emotional learning on the district’s website. Three Village said it is not affiliated with Sandy Hook Promise. We did not receive a response to follow-up questions about their programs before press deadlines. 

Sandy Hook Promise encourages anyone interested in pursuing community support for its programs to become a “promise leader” by registering on its website. 

Here’s a brief overview of Sandy Hook Promise programs:

There are four distinct programs developed by educators with expertise in curriculum development. All of it is accessible in person or online via Sandy Hook Promise’s Learning Center at no cost. Their award-winning programs include lesson plans, activities, games and discussion guides. Anyone who registers on the group’s website, www.sandyhookpromise.org, can access the charity’s free digital library that includes training sessions. The Start with Hello and Say Something programs both fall under the umbrella of the organization’s Know the Signs program. 

Start with Hello 

Start with Hello teaches children and youth how to minimize social isolation and empathize with others to create a more socially inclusive and connected culture. That lesson is explained in three steps: 1. See someone alone; 2. Reach out and help; 3. Start with Hello. 

Say Something

Experts say that people who are at risk of hurting themselves or others often show warning signs before they carry out an act of violence. Sandy Hook Promises trains middle school and high school students to spot these signs and do something about it. This program also follows a three-step approach: 1. Recognize the signs of someone at risk, especially on social media; 2. Act immediately and take it seriously; 3. Learn how to intervene by telling a trusted adult or by using the program’s anonymous reporting system. 

Say Something Anonymous Reporting System

The Say Something Anonymous Reporting System can be used when students see classmates who are at risk of harming themselves or others. It requires additional training for school district personnel and local law enforcement. It is reportedly the only anonymous reporting system in the U.S. that offers training along with a mobile app, a website and a hotline — exclusively for schools. 

The charity also runs its National Crisis Center that operates 24/7, 365 days a year. Experienced crisis counselors trained in suicide prevention, crisis management and mental health support respond to the tips. 

So far more than 120 school districts participate in this program, along with the states of Pennsylvania and North Carolina. A webform is available for schools and agencies interested in registering for access to this system. 

SAVE Promise Club

Students interested in starting a club or leading a committee within an existing club receive, at no cost, tools from Sandy Hook Promise, so they can plan activities that promote kindness and inclusiveness to instill the value of looking out for one another in their community. The club, called Students Against Violence Everywhere, is supported by a contract with U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Safe & Supportive Schools and can be accessed from the government’s website:  safesupportivelearning.ed.gov/resources. The initiative reinforces the key messages of the Start with Hello and Say Something programs.  

Gun safety policies

The mission of Sandy Hook Promise is to end school shootings and create a culture change that prevents violence and other harmful acts that hurt children. It advocates what it calls sensible, bipartisan gun safety policies to support that goal. They’ve created a sister organization, called an action fund, that works to pass legislation that advances school safety, mental health and gun violence prevention issues. 

“We believe in protecting the second amendment,” said Aimee Thunberg, Sandy Hook Promise’s media contact. “But we support policies that promote safe gun ownership to keep our children and communities safe.”

The group supports the bipartisan background check legislation that recently passed in the House of Representatives, but still needs Senate attention. The organization also supports extreme risk protection orders, or red-flag laws, that allows family and law enforcement to seek the court’s help to temporarily separate people in crisis from firearms. New York State’s red-flag law was implemented in August 2019 with roughly 160 weapons seized in Suffolk County, more than any other county in the state.  The organization also advocates bans on assault-style weapons and limits on high-capacity magazines to prevent more mass shootings.

Anyone who wants to, can get involved to help the Sandy Hook mission. In addition to programs for parents, students, teachers and other youth organizations, Sandy Hook Promise welcomes volunteers to help showcase their programs at community events to build better awareness. 

Otherwise, in response to the Robb Elementary School shooting in Uvalde, Texas, Sandy Hook Promise has compiled a list of very specific things people can do to help end gun violence. It’s available at www.sandyhookpromise.org/blog/gun-violence/what-you-can-do-right-now-to-help-end-gun-violence. 

“Our key message is that gun violence is preventable, and we have actions that every individual can take in their family, community, schools and with politicians,” said Nicole Hockley in a recent blog post.  “Don’t back away. Be part of the solution.”

TBR News Media asks readers who have participated in Sandy Hook Promise programs to email us at [email protected] and let us know about your experience.

File photo by Rita J. Egan

Last week, students nationwide walked out of their schools to stand up against gun violence and to demand stricter gun laws, including young people in the TBR News Media coverage areas.

It’s crucial for students to know that we journalists walk with you. We may not always be there physically, but we are always there in spirit. As community watchdogs, it is our duty to help educate people on what’s going on in their towns, and to let those in charge know that we are watching them too.

Parents, teachers, administrators and lawmakers must understand that young people are terrified by the headlines of the lastest mass shootings at schools. Our youth are being targeted, as our grownups stand by without solutions.

Yes, many school districts along the North Shore have several security measures in place. Visitors are often required to ring a buzzer before entering a front door, where an attendant will buzz them in. Once inside the main entrance, they cannot walk through the school without showing ID first. Often, a security guard or hall monitor will escort them to wherever they may be going.

While we applaud district administrators who have taken extra precaution to secure their buildings, protecting the lives of children and teachers goes beyond locked-door policies.

To prevent mass shootings — such as those in Uvalde, Texas; Sandy Hook, Connecticut; and Parkland, Florida — it is time for our nation to stop avoiding the deeper conversations about gun reform. The horrifying headlines we see every day will not disappear until there are real changes. 

If a parent visiting a school to see their son or daughter receive an award is required to go through a few steps just to walk through a school, then someone buying a gun of any kind needs to go through several measures. The procedures in place are simply not enough.

We know that there are some in this country hellbent on committing senseless harm who yearn to leave a mark on this world by depriving it of what is good and pure. Our nation needs stricter gun control laws so that these deranged individuals can be denied the opportunity to be remembered for the carnage they inflict upon humanity. 

The fight against gun violence goes even deeper than stricter laws, though. The battle begins with making mental health services available to everyone who needs them, including our youngest citizens. Children should always know that there is someone to talk to and help them navigate whatever they are going through in life.

Sometimes one’s journey in life may feel like a deep, dark tunnel. It’s up to parents, journalists, educators, administrators and elected officials to show our young people that there is always a light at the end of any tunnel.

Most of all, students need to know that the adults in their communities are there for them. We encourage students to attend board of ed meetings and to step up and speak out. We also invite our young readers to write in and let us know how they feel about the current gun laws, school safety and whatever else may be on their minds.

We are here for you.

Youth coalition pushes for ‘wave of orange,’ support for politicians in favor of more regulation this November

More than 600 people gathered together loudly chanting, “Enough is enough,” and calling for measures to help bring an end to gun violence in schools at a Huntington Station park this past weekend.

Members of Students against Gun Violence LI, a student-led coalition calling for stricter gun control measures, were joined by parents, Huntington area residents and community members in a rally July 29 at Breezy Park. This event aimed to build on the momentum gathered in the March 24 marches in response to the February Parkland, Florida, school shooting, encouraging young adults to voice their opinions on gun control issues at the polls this November.

“America just loves its guns more than its people and if that’s not f****d up, I don’t know what is,” said Lucy
Peters tearfully, as the niece of Dix Hills native Scott Beigel, who was killed in the Parkland shooting. “We need to elect ‘orange’ politicians who see gun control for what it is — a human issue and not a political issue.”

We need to elect ‘orange’ politicians who see gun control for what it is — a human issue and not a political issue.”

– Lucy Peters

Orange has been adopted as the color worn and displayed by those protesting stalled gun control measures.

Peters stood alongside relatives of other Parkland shooting victims: Commack resident Paul Guttenberg whose niece, Jaime, a student, was killed, and Linda Beigel Schulman, mother of Scott Beigel, in calling for stricter gun control measures.

“On Feb. 14, 2018, a 19-year-old was not mature or trustworthy enough to handle a beer but was mature and trustworthy enough to handle a weapon of war, an AR-15 assault rifle,” Beigel Schulman said, in questioning gun control laws. “In what world does that make sense?”

The mother of the 35-year-old Parkland shooting victim called out Long Island politicians who have offered their “thoughts and prayers” to victims of mass shootings but have not voted in support of gun control legislation, specifically naming U.S. Reps. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) and Peter King (R-Seaford). Beige Schulman said in the wake of Scott’s death, she had chosen to make gun control reform her life’s mission and encourages others to take action.

People ask me, ‘What can we do to support you?’ My answer is so simple: Make sure you get out and vote.”

– Linda Beigel Schulman

“People ask me, ‘What can we do to support you?’” she said. “My answer is so simple: Make sure you get out and vote. Then make sure to tell at least two more people to get out and vote.”

U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove), who co-sponsored the Huntington rally, stressed the importance of high school and college students continuing to voice their opinions on national issues by registering to vote and holding politicians accountable for their viewpoints in the upcoming
midterm elections.

“We need young people to continue to keep a youth movement going in this country to focus on this issue of gun violence,” Suozzi said. “This is a unique time in history. The adults have failed and we need young people to keep this going.”

Huntington resident Owen Toomey, who has been actively involved in March for Our Lives Long Island, stressed that the movement has defined five major legislative goals that it is fighting for. First on that list is universal background checks for gun purchasers.

I accept that my innocence has been eroded by the fear of gun violence, but I refuse to accept that same fate for upcoming generations.”

– Gia Yetikyel

Other goals of the movement include upgrading and digitalizing the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives registry; a ban on the sale of high-capacity gun magazines and semi-automatic assault rifles, and getting Congress to approve funding for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to research and study gun violence.

“When people ask what you are rallying for, tell them our goals,” Toomey said. “Remind them we aren’t banning guns, remind them we aren’t taking their guns, remind them we aren’t taking away their sport or self-defense — we are just making it harder for someone to kill 15 people in the span of six minutes.”

Gia Yetikyel, of New Hyde Park, recalled how terrified she was 17 years old and her high school experienced an incident that required a lockdown. While crouching in the corner of the classroom, she reported sending out text messages to her mother to ask about a younger brother’s safety, sending messages to beloved family and friends all while making a list of goals she had yet to accomplish.

I’ll be telling them the young on Long Island have never rested or stopped fighting for what is right.”

– Avalon Fenster

“I accept that my innocence has been eroded by the fear of gun violence, but I refuse to accept that same fate for upcoming generations,” she said.

Yetikyel said she still suffers effects from that day and, as such, fights for stricter gun control measures.

“We send out condolences to the families of the dead, but I’m still sending them to the living for having to fight this battle that shouldn’t even exist,” she said.

March for Our Lives Long Island co-founder Avalon Fenster, of Dix Hills, announced that she will be taking her pledge to fight for gun control legislation to the national level. She’s been invited to join the “Road to Change” national March for Our Lives Tour as a representative for Long Island alongside Parkland survivors Emma González and David Hogg. The tour stopped in Greensboro, North Carolina, from July 31 to Aug. 2 to rally for gun control while showing active opposition to the National Rifle Association.

“I’ll be telling them the young on Long Island have never rested or stopped fighting for what is right,” Fenster promised those gathered. “We will resist. We will register, and we will bring justice.”

Taking the lead of demonstrations started by people barely old enough to drive during the days of the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights movement, North Shore students marched Saturday. Their messages were clear in their rhetoric delivered over a sound system from the bed of a pickup truck and on homemade signs: lives lost to gun violence are no longer acceptable, especially in schools, and politicians who do not agree are going to have organized and audible opposition.

A local incarnation of the March for Our Lives, a movement started by survivors of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting that left 17 people dead in Parkland, Florida, Feb. 14, took place at the intersection of Routes 347 and 112 in Port Jefferson Station March 24. While thousands stomped through Washington, D.C., and countless other areas across the globe, several hundred gathered locally, thanks to the organizing efforts of students from Miller Place, Port Jefferson, Ward Melville and other area high schools, to call on politicians to take action to prevent gun violence in schools and communities. Activist organizations The North Country Peace Group, Long Island Rising, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America and Building Bridges in Brookhaven assisted the high schoolers in setting up the demonstration.

Calls for legislative action in speeches and on signs ranged from all-encompassing bans of “assault style” weapons seen abroad, like in Australia; to the more incremental policy changes being discussed in state houses and on the federal level, such as raising the minimum age to purchase firearms from 18 to 21; to bans on modifiers that make semi-automatic weapons function like automatic weapons; stronger background checks; and longer waiting periods for purchases.

“We are infused with a passion for change — change that we hope will drain the stagnant pool of corruption in our nation,” Miller Place High School student Jake Angelo said to the crowd. “We are the hope for our country’s future — the generation of awareness, the generation of calling ‘B.S.’ and the generation of change.”

Nearly all of the student speakers directed their remarks at U.S. 1st Congressional District Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) and the National Rifle Association, the powerful lobbying arm whose political contributions are often criticized as the deterrent to advancing gun legislation by those who lean to the political left. Zeldin received nearly $10,000 in campaign contributions from the NRA during his reelection campaign in 2016, according to campaign finance watchdog OpenSecrets.org.

“Change does not happen when the leaders deem it so,” Ward Melville High School student Scott Egnor said. “Change happens when every day folks say that enough is enough. Change happens when every day folks draw the line. Change happens when we vote Lee Zeldin out. We will take this movement, by Americans, for Americans, and we will bring it to the doors of the capital. We will not stop until Congress is more afraid of our voice than the NRA checkbooks.”

A spokeswoman for Zeldin Katie Vincentz said in an email the Congressman has and will continue to meet with those on both sides of the gun control debate, when asked if he planned to meet with any of the NY-1 students behind the Port Jeff Station march. She said Zeldin supports banning bump stocks, fixing the National Criminal Instant Background Check System and “ensuring lunatics manifesting violent criminal intentions to murder with firearms have access to none,” among other changes widely regarded as incremental gun control steps. She did not say whether or not he would support a ban on assault-style weapons when asked.

“The more people of all ages participating the better,” Vincentz said when asked how Zeldin viewed the activism of students in his district and beyond.

A speaker who identified herself as Ariana, a sophomore at Longwood High School, also invoked Zeldin during her remarks.

“Why should 15 year olds have to discuss the possibility of dying at the hands of a mass shooter?” she said. “Why should we be discussing dying in school, a place where we’re supposed to be safe and protected? And what can we expect from politicians like Lee Zeldin? Apparently only prayers and condolences. Congress is not taking the necessary steps to keep students like me and my friends safe — or the 5 year olds in kindergarten, or the 11 year olds in middle school. That’s why we are here. We cannot wait for the adults in Congress to continue to let the NRA call the shots when it comes to our safety. These politicians are not listening to us because we are supposedly too young to know what’s good for us, but apparently their silence is what’s best. Or perhaps the issue here is special interests and the money they receive is more important to them than our lives.”

Many of the parents of student speakers and participants in attendance expressed how proud of their children they were.

“It’s honestly the most proud that I’ve ever been of them,” said Kathy Podair, whose daughter Emma and frienf Alyssa Anderson, Smithtown High School West students, were among the marchers. “I’ve raised them to be strong women and to speak out against things that are wrong and that need to change. To see them take that initiative and stand up, I feel like I did a good job. I’m very proud of them today.”

She called sending a student off to high school in today’s world “terrifying.”

“They had a lockdown drill last week,” she said. “We got an email from the superintendent in the morning letting us know that there will be an unannounced lockdown drill today, and they came home from school and told me they were in the choir room when it happened, in a room that doesn’t have a lock on the [glass] door, and they said ‘we were sitting ducks if this was real.’ There were 150 kids in this room and they said ‘there’s nowhere safe for us to hide.’”

Port Jefferson High School students Ben Zaltsman and Matt Pifko, who helped organize an indoor assembly that took place March 14 on the day a national walkout was scheduled, along with classmate Gavin Barret, also spoke during the event. The trio said they were inspired by the solidarity they felt from seeing so many of their peers in attendance. The students helped establish a station in the high school that will remain open at which their peers can get assistance in writing letters to elected representatives.

Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) and State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) were also among the attendees.

“It is amazing to see the passion, the dedication, the commitment of these students — no fear,” Hahn said. “It is wonderful. They are focused, they are determined, they are smart and they’re getting things done already. And we need to follow their lead.”

A smaller group of counter protestors stood across the street on Route 347 holding signs in support of the Second Amendment, with several Suffolk County Police Department officers and their cars positioned on the median to separate the two groups, though no violence and minimal interaction occurred.

A package of gun control bills passed the New York State Assembly in March and will require passage by the Republican-majority state senate before becoming law. All of the students asked said they intend to vote in the next election, or the first one after their 18th birthday. Organizers from the various activist groups had a table set up during the march to help register attendees to vote.

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There is no denying the Florida school shooting has reignited a national discussion on appropriate firearm regulations and mental health issues. Amid the uproar, students are organizing in attempt to make their voices heard — and we firmly believe they deserve to be at the forefront of this conversation.

The Women’s March Youth EMPOWER has put out the call for students, teachers, school administrators and parents to participate in a national school walkout Wednesday, March 14, at 10 a.m. The event calls for students to walk outside of their school building for 17 minutes, one minute for each of victims killed in Parkland, in a unified effort to show students demand action from Congress in passing federal gun regulations.

Commack resident Paul Guttenberg, whose niece Jaime was killed in the Parkland shooting, voiced support for the student walkout.

“It keeps the issue of how high school students feel about gun violence in the news, and will also send the message that our children’s voices do count,” he said. “And the tone-deaf GOP politicians in Congress will be forced to listen to how they feel.”

The reaction of Long Island’s school districts to the walkout wildly varies and, in some cases, is disappointing. We applaud Ward Melville High School Principal Alan Baum for sitting down with student organizers in his district to discuss plans and ensure safety.

If the point of education is to prepare our children for life, and to become civic-minded adults, Baum’s action should serve as an example for other districts.

Brenden Cusack, principal at Huntington High School, has used the walkout as an opportunity to arrange a March 13 forum where students, teachers and the community can engage in respectful dialogue on mass shootings.

It is disappointing that other districts like Rocky Point have issued warnings that administrative action will be taken in response to any student participating in the walkout. The event is an effort to cry out for attention, where the district’s planned moment of silence is just that, silence, and a letter-writing campaign is too easily ignored. This decision by school administrators strangles students’ voices, making someone think twice before expressing an opinion.

Worse are those school officials who have decided to bury their heads in the sand and not publicly address the walkout. Elwood and Harborfields have not yet issued public statements regarding how their districts will handle the event. This leaves both students and parents with numerous unanswered questions. With a little less than a week until walkout day, we strongly encourage school officials to reconsider an open and honest dialogue.

The first step to solving a problem starts with discussion of the issues. Students have every right to be heard, for it’s their safety at risk.

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An assault rifle, the weapon of choice in many mass shootings, including the Feb. 14 massacre at a Florida high school. Stock photo

By Marci Lobel

Our nation is reeling from another school shooting involving a perpetrator who was psychologically disturbed. As we consider ways to prevent such tragedies from recurring, it is important to focus on what is known about gun violence. Only by understanding these facts can we develop strategies that are most likely to be effective.

Marci Lobel is a professor of psychology at SBU. Photo from Marci Lobel

First, the majority of gun violence is committed by people without mental illness. This is well documented by public health experts. A person with mental illness is much less likely than a person without a diagnosable mental illness to commit an act of gun violence. In fact, mentally ill people are more likely to be victims than perpetrators of gun violence. Inaccurate claims equating mental illness with gun violence promote stigma and misunderstanding about mentally ill people and may make it less likely that they will reach out to seek help.

Second, mass shootings are not as common as other acts of gun violence. Mass shootings in schools or elsewhere — churches, movie theaters, congressional softball games, music concerts — understandably receive a lot of attention because these tragedies are exceptionally horrifying, especially when children are victims. Nevertheless, the majority of deaths and unintended injuries by guns are not through mass shootings. Every day in the United States, 93 people die from gun violence on average, according to the key gun violence statistics page on www.bradycampaign.org.

Third, owning a gun or having one accessible puts you at risk of being killed by it. According to research published in 2015 in the Annals of Internal Medicine, homicides, suicides and accidental gun deaths are more numerous among gun owners and others in their household, especially children and women, than among people who don’t own guns. Research also shows that states with higher gun ownership have higher gun homicide rates, even after controlling for other predictors such as poverty and alcohol consumption, and states with gun control laws have fewer gun deaths. Additionally, numerous studies comparing developed countries find that the number of guns per capita is a strong, independent predictor of the number of gun deaths in that country.

“Guns not only permit violence, they can stimulate it as well. The finger pulls the trigger, but the trigger may also be pulling the finger.”

— Leonard Berkowitz

Fourth, the U.S. Supreme Court has endorsed the constitutional legitimacy of gun restrictions. In 2008, in delivering the opinion of the court, conservative Justice Antonin Scalia wrote, “Like most rights, the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited. [It is] not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose. … We also recognize another important limitation on the right to keep and carry arms. Miller [a previous court case] said, as we have explained, that the sorts of weapons protected were those ‘in common use at the time.’ We think that limitation is fairly supported by the historical tradition of prohibiting the carrying of ‘dangerous and unusual weapons.’”

Fifth, merely being in the presence of a gun increases aggression. This phenomenon, “the weapons effect,” is well demonstrated by social psychology research, which also finds that people recognize and react to guns very quickly. “Guns not only permit violence, they can stimulate it as well,” wrote Leonard Berkowitz in a 1967 study with Anthony LePage. “The finger pulls the trigger, but the trigger may also be pulling the finger.”

To truly protect our children, our families, our communities and our nation, we must adopt measures that are consistent with what is known about gun violence. The findings described above suggest that improving mental health outreach and treatment, while important in and of itself, will not solve the much larger problem of gun violence in American society. Stationing armed guards in our schools is not a solution — this endangers our children, teachers and those who work in schools because of the weapons effect described above. And even well-trained professionals are known to make errors in high-pressure situations. As to the idea of arming teachers, there are many more serious flaws with that idea than can be listed here. Furthermore, addressing mass shootings in our schools does nothing to eliminate the 93 gun deaths that occur day in and day out in this country.

Can we enact sensible gun policies? The Supreme Court has ruled that some gun restrictions are constitutional, and evidence indicates that gun control reduces gun deaths, even though it doesn’t completely eliminate them. The vast majority of Americans, including gun owners, support sensible gun policies. So what are we waiting for? We’re waiting for our political leaders to act. Demand action from your elected officials. Make phone calls, send letters, march, protest and vote. Get involved with organizations such as Everytown for Gun Safety and Moms Demand Action. Demand action before another 93 people die tomorrow.

Marci Lobel is a professor of psychology and the director of the program in social and health psychology at Stony Brook University.

Park rangers would monitor Huntington Station parks to give a greater sense of police presence to the area. Stock photo

After a slew of violent incidents in Huntington Station, town Supervisor Frank Petrone (D) has proposed using park rangers to help monitor the area and improve security.

In the past two months, Suffolk County Police Department has publicly reported two dead bodies found in Huntington and three shootings in the area. Residents have asked officials at town board meetings for resolutions to the safety issue.

According to town spokesman A.J. Carter, the town plans to hire three to four park rangers, who would be recently retired or active but off-duty policemen and have the same powers as peace officers.

Although their jurisdiction specifically would be town parks, Carter said the park rangers would be allowed to intervene if they see activity on the roads or other areas outside the parks.

Huntington Station borders the Froehlich Farm Nature Preserve, where the body of a young woman was found in 2013, and includes the following parks within the neighborhood: Gateway Park on New York Avenue at Lowndes Avenue; Manor Field Park on East 5th Street; Depot Road Park; and Fair Meadows Park on East Pulaski Road and Park Avenue.

According to New York State criminal procedure law, peace officers can make warrantless arrests, use physical force to make an arrest or prevent an escape, carry out warrantless searches with probable cause and issue appearance tickets, among other powers. They can also carry firearms and take away weapons from people who do not have the proper licenses to carry.

All peace officers in New York need to go through a special training program.

Carter said Petrone has spent months researching the idea.

Many other towns on Long Island use systems like this, including Smithtown, which has a park ranger division comprised of “law enforcement personnel” acting as peace officers in town-owned facilities to “enforce town codes, parks rules and regulations, as well as state and federal laws,” according to Smithtown’s website.

Smithtown park rangers work in conjunction with Suffolk police, and Carter said Huntington plans to do the same. Duties for Smithtown rangers include preserving town property, deterring crime, arresting offenders and assisting in searches for missing persons.

“It’s another presence in the community with the ability to make arrests,” Carter said in a phone interview.

The town spokesman also said the money to hire peace officers would be taken from the part of the budget set aside for additional seasonal hires.

As for information on uniforms, salary, shift schedules and more, Carter said the program is still in the works and no other news is available at the moment.

UGG boots on the loose
Suffolk County Crime Stoppers and Suffolk County Police Fourth Squad detectives are seeking the public’s help to identify and locate the man who stole more than a dozen pairs of boots from a Commack store in November. A man wearing glasses and a hooded jacket stole 15 pairs of UGG boots from Sports Authority on Veterans Memorial Highway, on Nov. 29 at about 4 p.m. The boots have a combined value of approximately $2,800. Suffolk County Crime Stoppers offers a cash reward of up to $5,000 for information that leads to an arrest. Anyone with information about this crime is asked to call anonymously to Crime Stoppers at 1-800-220-TIPS (8477).

Televisions teleported
A 36-year-old man from Medford and 39-year-old woman from Middle Island were arrested on Jan. 9 at 9:50 p.m. after police said they stole three televisions from Walmart on Veterans Highway in Islandia. They were both charged with petit larceny.

Tools taken
On Jan. 7 a 29-year-old man from Smithtown was arrested after police said he stole power tools from a residence on Wayside Lane in Smithtown at 9 a.m. He was charged with petit larceny.

Blurred lines
Police said a 50-year-old from Rocky Point was driving drunk at 11:25 p.m. on Jan. 7. He was pulled over on Route 25 in St. James after police said he turned left in the right lane and drove across traffic. He was charged with aggravated driving while intoxicated.

Busted at Busters
A 56-year-old man from Greenlawn was arrested on Jan. 9 at 8:30 p.m. after police said he was selling alcohol to an underage person at Beverage Busters in Commack. He was charged with first-degree unlawfully dealing with a child with alcohol.

Pill problem
On Jan. 7 a 32-year-old man from Commack was arrested after police said he was in possession of prescription pills without a prescription inside a 2015 Dodge Ram pickup truck on Wesleyan Road at about 10:45 p.m. He was charged with seventh-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance.

Purse nabbed at Napper’s
Police said an unknown person stole a pocketbook with credit cards and a license from Napper Tandy’s Irish Pub in Smithtown on Jan. 7 just after midnight.

Ale House to Jailhouse
A 20-year-old man from Port Jefferson Station was arrested on Jan. 8 for robbery. Police said the man approached another person with a silver semi-automatic handgun and stole cash and a cellphone from the victim outside Miller’s Commack Ale House on Veterans Memorial Highway in Commack. Police arrested the man that day around 1:15 p.m. at his residence.

Double the trouble
Police arrested a 24-year-old man and an 18-year-old woman from Coram for loitering and unlawful possession of a controlled substance on Jan. 5. The man allegedly injected himself with heroin before throwing the needle into the woods near Crystal Brook Hollow Road in Port Jefferson Station and was also found to be in possession of marijuana.

Tools of the trade
On Jan. 8 at 5 p.m., police arrested a 24-year-old man from Mount Sinai for criminal possession of stolen property. Police said he had three power tools that he received in December from another unidentified person, who had stolen them. Police said the man was also in possession of a plastic bag of cocaine, but he was not charged with drug possession.

The seat warmer
A 19-year-old Miller Place resident was arrested on Jan. 5 for unauthorized use of a car. Police said the man entered a 2011 Jeep Cherokee at a residence on North Country Road, then a 2002 Chevrolet on the same road shortly afterward. Police said the man didn’t steal anything but remained in the car. He was arrested around 2 a.m.

Swipe left
According to police, an unknown person stole an iPhone from a home on Beaver Lane in East Setauket. Police said the individual didn’t break into the home. The incident happened on Jan. 7 at 7 p.m.

A handy heist
Police said someone entered the Lowe’s on Nesconset Highway in Stony Brook on Jan. 8 at 11 p.m. and stole an electric heater and leaf blower.

Push it, push it real good
According to police, two unidentified males got into a physical altercation on Jan. 10 on West Broadway in Port Jefferson. The two men shoved one another multiple times. One was transported to Stony Brook University Hospital for a laceration.

Idling while intoxicated
Police arrested a woman from Port Jefferson for driving while ability impaired after receiving a call about the 45-year-old woman sitting in a 2010 red Toyota Prius outside the Applebee’s on  Route 25A in Miller Place. Police said the engine was running when officials arrested the woman on Jan. 4 at 9:40 p.m.

Stopped in a flash
Police arrested a 26-year-old man from Setauket on Jan. 7 at 12:23 a.m. for driving while ability impaired in a 2006 Honda Civic. According to police, officials pulled the man over on Route 25A in East Setauket for speeding and discovered he was intoxicated.

Path to prison
A 35-year-old man from Centereach was arrested for driving while ability impaired in a 2008 Jeep on Jan. 5. He was heading west on North Bicycle Path in Selden when he got into a car crash. Police discovered the man was impaired by drugs and he was arrested at the scene.

License to steal
On Jan. 7 at 1:35 a.m., a 47-year-old Holbrook man was arrested for stealing two license plates from a 1998 Ford Explorer on South Coleman Road in Selden. And between Jan. 6 at 5:30 p.m. and 5 p.m. on the following day, an unknown person stole license plates from a car parked on Old Town Road in Port Jefferson Station. It was not clear whether the two incidents were related.

A safe decision
On Jan. 8 between 6 and 8 p.m., an unknown person broke into Old Coach Motors in Mount Sinai and stole a safe that stored money and papers.

Hickory dickory smash
An unknown person broke a window of a residence on Hickory Street in Mount Sinai on Jan. 4 at 2:56 p.m.

Mad for music
On Jan. 10, an unknown person stole headphones and batteries from the Walmart on Nesconset Highway in East Setauket. The incident happened around 12:25 p.m.

Lost and found
Someone stole a 2000 Honda Civic from a residence in Lake Grove on Jan. 9. Police said the owner of the car didn’t know it was stolen until after the car was recovered on Elwood Road in Centereach on Jan. 10, around 1 a.m.

Shell game
According to police, just past midnight on Jan. 10 someone stole a television from a shed at a residence on Shell Road in Rocky Point.