Van Blarcum won’t back down from ‘please carry’ stance

Paul VanBlarcum. (Photo: Dan Barton)

Paul VanBlarcum. (Photo: Dan Barton)

A day after his controversial call to arms set off intense debate over the role of armed citizens in maintaining public safety, Ulster County Sheriff Paul Van Blarcum is standing by his statement encouraging all properly licensed handgun owners and off duty police officers to carry weapons.

“It’s something I believe in,” said Van Blarcum on Friday. “I didn’t think it would turn into such a big deal, hopefully in a few days it will be over.”

On Thursday, Van Blarcum placed Ulster County squarely in the middle of the nationwide debate over gun control in the wake of recent mass shootings when he issued the press release. The statement, posted on the sheriff’s office Facebook page, urged licensed handgun owners to “take advantage of your legal right to carry a firearm.” The statement goes on to ask gun owners to ensure that they are “comfortable and proficient” with their firearms and well informed on state law regarding the carrying and use of weapons. Van Blarcum’s statement went on to urge all active-duty and retired police or peace officers to carry a weapon whenever they leave the house.


Van Blarcum said he drafted the message in response to a wave of mass shootings across the country. “It’s not only the California shooting, it’s all of them,” said Van Blarcum. “I just have to think that if there was someone with a weapon in those crowds some of these outcomes might have been different.”

Van Blarcum said that his thinking on the subject was influenced in part by his experience with the Hudson Valley Mall shooting. On Feb. 13, 2005, Robert Bonelli walked into the Town of Ulster shopping center and opened fire with an assault rifle, wounding two people. Van Blarcum said there were six off duty cops in the mall at the time of Bonelli’s rampage, but none was carrying a weapon.

Critics of concealed carry say that the presence of armed, but otherwise unprepared and untrained, civilians in an “active shooter” situation would more likely lead to chaos and casualties than a swift resolution. But Van Blarcum expressed confidence in Ulster County’s licensed handgun owners. He noted that many local civilian licensed gun carriers belonged to gun clubs and spent more time at the range than the 16 hours each year required of active law enforcement officers.

“A lot of our handgun owners in Ulster County probably shoot more than the average police officer who goes to the range twice a year,” said Van Blarcum.

Van Blarcum added that in a typical mass shooting, casualties mount quickly and in most cases the damage has been done before police arrive on the scene. In those cases, he said, the presence of an armed civilian can make all the difference.

“I want to encourage every [gun owner] to get as much training as they need to be comfortable with it,” said Van Blarcum. “And I’d encourage people, if they have that carry permit to be responsible with it and use it.”

Reaction to Van Blarcum’s statement was swift and exposed the yawning chasm between those who believe that the solution to mass shootings is stricter gun control and those who believe, as the NRA’s Wayne LaPierre stated in the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre, that the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. The debate has raged on social media, where Ulster County was popping up near the top of trending news on Friday morning.

Van Blarcum said he’d received more email on the subject than he could keep up with. Most, he said, was supportive while some was “pretty nasty.” Critics of Van Blarcum’s stance have organized a protest for 4 p.m. today, Friday, Dec. 4 outside the Ulster County Law Enforcement Center on Route 32 in Kingston. Meanwhile, Van Blarcum said, he’s been inundated with media inquiries.

“It’s crazy, I had one place offer to send a car up for me to go to New York City,” said Van Blarcum. “I’m a low-key guy, I have no desire to go down there and be on TV. If they send someone up here I’ll talk to them.”

Low-key attitude notwithstanding, this is not the first time Van Blarcum has spurred controversy and debate. Last year he drew howls of protest from civil liberties groups and advocates for the poor when he instituted routine warrant checks at a security post manned by deputies inside Ulster County’s Department of Social Services. Van Blarcum defended the move as a common sense solution to clearing up the agency’s warrant list. Opponents called it an outrageous violation of civil liberties and stigmatizing to the poor. Van Blarcum ended the warrant checks after county lawmakers threatened to replace deputies with private sector security at county buildings.

Also on Thursday, Ulster County District Attorney added his voice to the discussion, expressing “complete confidence” in Van Blarcum. “Though I fully support our right to bear arms and to defend ourselves I am not convinced more guns in the hands of untrained or unskilled civilians is the answer and nor do I believe does the sheriff,” stated Carnright in his own Facebook post.

The DA called for caution and vigilance and added that people who aren’t trained or lack the skills to effectively respond to an active shooter situation shouldn’t make things worse. “Perhaps more than ever our response as a community should be cautioned and thoughtful,” stated Carnright. “Ulster County is blessed with an exceptionally trained and proficient law enforcement community. I would discourage any action where untrained or unskilled citizens create an opportunity for unintended tragedy which could pose risk not only to innocent citizens but to our own law enforcement personnel.”


The Thursday version of the story, by Dan Barton:

A day after a shocking and still-enigmatic shooting incident in San Bernardino, Calif. killed 14 – making it the worst mass shooting since 2013’s Sandy Hook massacre – Ulster County Sheriff Paul Van Blarcum posted a message on the sheriff’s office Facebook page asking those in Ulster who are licensed to have a handgun with them in public to start carrying.

“In light of recent events that have occurred in the United States and around the world I want to encourage citizens of Ulster County who are licensed to carry a firearm to [sic] PLEASE DO SO,” read Van Blarcum’s Thursday morning Facebook post.

“I urge you to responsibly take advantage of your legal right to carry a firearm. To ensure the safety of yourself and others, make sure you are comfortable and proficient with your weapon, and knowledgeable of the laws in New York State with regards to carrying a weapon and when it is legal to use it,” the post continued.


Van Blarcum also called on retired law enforcement personnel, who are typically allowed to carry a concealed weapon after they leave the force, to stay alert and be ready for trouble.

“I also want to remind all Police/Peace Officers both active duty and retired to please carry a weapon whenever you leave your house. We are the thin blue line that is entrusted in keeping this country safe, and we must be prepared to act at any given moment,” read the sheriff’s post.

Reaction to the sheriff’s statement on social media was immediate and at times passionate. In about two hours, the post had gotten over 4,100 Facebook likes and close to 6,400 shares. Some 500 comments were posted in the space of two hours, with the gun-control debate playing out all over the country erupting locally.

Wrote New Paltz Town Councilman Daniel Torres who like Van Blarcum is a Democrat, commented on Van Blarcum’s post, ” I am confused as to why the Ulster County Sheriff’s Office, whose job it is to protect people, would encouraging citizens to take up arms for their own safety.” (Over 100 responses were made to this, most of them critical, arguing, for instance, that the police can’t be everywhere. “A gun in your hand beats a cop on the phone,” posted Joe Forte.

Posted Andrew Cort, “Can’t believe how many adolescent Rambo-wannabees are already on this thread talking about how tough and ‘American’ they are. Please stop humoring them and inciting more of them!” 

“Maybe we should vote [sic] Paul Van Blarkum for president of the United States,” posted Dave Gallagher.

There are 28 comments

  1. George G.

    I predicted this so it doesn’t surprise me, but I’m not sure if this will really make the world a safer place. In my mind more guns DO NOT equal more peace and harmony.

  2. Jan B

    How are we supposed to know if a person has a license to carry a gun or not, do we have to ask them or run in terror if we see someone carrying one

    1. Art Davila

      Certainly do not antagonize a person that is armed, but if they are not doing any criminal act they probably are safe. Call the police if you are unsure.

    2. Paul

      A permit to carry in ny is concealed carry. You won’t know someone is carrying until they use it to defend him / herself. Then you can thank them for saving your life.

  3. TheRedDogParty

    I tend to agree with the Sheriff. I’d be willing to take the class(es) which would qualify me to have a license and carry a hand gun. I say this, not being certain that I would purchase a fire arm and carry it.

    1. Paul

      The 2 semiautomatic rifles were purchased by a third party, and given to them, which is an illegal straw purchase.

  4. CP

    I disagree, Mr. Blarcum; I think your statement gives every hothead to has a gun an excuse to cause trouble.

    In almost every case where a gun was on the premises of a mass shooting incident, the owner couldn’t get to it in time to defend him/herself or others. More guns do not equal more safety. The real question is how do we get the firepower out of the hands of those who would abuse it. My answer is, honestly, I don’t know, but a good place to start would be to limit the supply of military-style weapons in civilian hands and get as many of the existing non-legit guns as possible off the street.

    I am not anti-gun. I AM anti-crazy. One doesn’t ramp down a crisis situation by escalating it.

    1. Art Davila

      I am a Chicago Police officer, and I Believe that a person who has a gun on his/her person and not locked away in case of an emergency is the best first responder, but not every person who carries will take heroic action, just like not every police officer is going to respond exactly the same in every situation.
      Me if I am off duty and not in uniform, I have no radio. I am going to look to only shoot from a place of cover. Cover means A bullet resistant material that if it does not stop the bullet it will slow it down and make it less lethal.
      So your average Citizen is not encouraged to stand in the open without protection and exchange gun fire. Nor should he/she shoot without trying to aim. Having a gun and having training and going thru mental scenarios is what prepares you to act. Having a gun and not training is not likely to get you ready to take action.

  5. Russell

    Look there are countries that require all citizens to know how to use and to carry guns, and they have the lowest gun violence. As to how do you know if the person caring is licensed, if there not then they would not be dumb enough to open carry. For you bleeding heart liberals, enough is enough. Not only am I tired of hearing of theses mass shooting, but I’m tired of hearing that theses people are being picked off like scared animals, because they don’t have a weapon to defend themselves. If one of those survivors had a weapon you could bet the death toll would have been much lower. If we start carrying and let theses savages know we are armed, they will think twice before they attack. Remember they only attack, children, the old, and the defenseless, NOT THE ARMED OR THOSE THAT CAN FIGHT BACK. Ask yourself this, if your child was there being held captive like in Paris, knowing they were going to be executed. Wouldn’t you want someone there with a weapon to maybe save there life? Remember guns don’t kill people, savages kill people that are un-armed.

  6. George J. Dagis

    I am very proud to have this man as the sheriff of my country. He is not even REALLY calling for all those legally able to carry to do so. He is actually putting a possible murderer on NOTICE that they might not get away so easily in this county. You need to “read between the lines”; this has gone over many peoples’ heads!

  7. R warner

    Preach on Sheriff! Most against his statement on this post have no idea what concealed carry really means. If you are concealed carrying then are concealing the weapon. What good does it do to open carry other than to mark you as the biggest threat?

  8. Mark

    The thing that everyone who is advocating this (including the Sheriff) seem to be overlooking is this simple fact: being trained in the use of a firearm is NOT the same as being trained in dealing with a violent situation. Just like being trained in using utensils is not the same as being trained to be a chef.

    Here’s scenario… you’re in Hudson Valley Mall…. you come across two people on opposite ends of a hallway, guns out and shooting at each other. Which one is the good samaritan who is carrying? Which one is the “bad guy”? Who do you shoot? And if you pull out your weapon, is someone going to shoot YOU thinking that YOU’RE the bad guy?

    Law enforcement officers are trained to deal with these situations – and are clearly visible as officers.

    Lastly – this is clearly happening because of the publicity surrounding recent shootings – but this might help you (and the Sheriff) find a little perspective:

    1. nopolitics

      No I would not. It would not ultimately make a dime’s worth of difference in any positive direction. This idea is what is called “a false sense of security.” Number one, you have to figure out which person(s) is(are) doing the shooting. Number two–and this is if by that time the person firing has not hit you or targeted you–you have to make sure you aim properly and anticipate the movement of that person(s) so that you hit that person(s) and not some innocent bystander(s). Number three–usually in such scenarios, the unexpected is the norm(the person(s) firing makes some unexpected movement, leaves the scene, hides behind a hostage,or some other unexpected act. Number four–the assumption that you, ie, the person with the gun, with or without training, will keep a level head in that moment of stress–which is often not the case. Number five, any arriving law enforcement personnel will hopefully identify the other gunman/gunmen and not you as the suspect(it doesn’t happen like it does on TV where everyone including the audience just happens to instantly know who the good guys and bad guys are). So there ya go. The statistics say that all those factors make for an increased danger in such a scenario, not a decreased danger scenario–yet folks continue to believe, falsely, in this false sense of security. If the person happened to be seated in a balcony upstairs with a gun and the assailants were on the first floor, there might be some increased security in terms of being able to quickly identify, aim and hit an assailant, but all the above factors would still come into play and rather quickly. Someone sitting next to me on the same floor in which the assailant was located? No way!! And, lest we forget the real lessons of the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman scenario–introduce a factor which has induced fear in man since time immemorial such as darkness–and your recipe for unintended consequences as a result of increased danger as an ultimate result goes through the roof. I assume that most of that theatre was bathed in darkness or relative darkness to the natural light of midday outside.

  9. Michelle Higgins

    The Sheriff spoke out of turn and should have consulted other elected officials before making this wild statement. People should not be able to own guns – they can’t be trusted with them. No other country has our civil problems with guns. Kingston is by and large a peaceful place and this is a rash statement that encourages vigilantes.

    1. Paul

      You forget that our forefathers wrote a little paper, called the constitution of the United States of America. And the second ammendment to that little paper states that we have the right to keep and bear arms. They also stated firmly that we should all be proficient in the use of said arms. They were our our elected officials.

  10. Bill Lopez

    I would rather have a gun in my hand than a cop on the phone, when seconds matter I don’t have minutes to wait for response time. Ultimately I am the original Homeland Security.

  11. Wolf

    Being a soldier I am trained in the use of arms. That being said most of my friends who are not soldiers are just as good as me with weapons. With an ar15 or a pistol. There are many classes out there that teach very well about article 35, the use of force, and how to safely carry a weapon, and how to develop a survival attitude. Why do I carry? Because I am not going to be a target. Because no one has the right to try and take my life, my liberty, my belongings, or my conditional rights.
    You all complain about people carrying weapons without law enforcement training. Some of these classes are equal to the firearms training completed by law enforcement. Their is many advanced shooting classes. The fact I sthe first time anyone gets shot at it all comes down to practice. How many times have you upholstered your weapon and fired controlled pairs and double taps. I was trained with a rifle and a 240 h machine gun being a door gunner on a ch47. When I came home it switched to a m&p40 and a bodyguard 380. I spent hours in front of a mirror practicing then hundreds of rounds at a range. Few if any will strap a weapon on them without doing that. They have just as much if not more firearms practice than a lot of cops I know.

    The other thing is most people here have no right to complain about rights you have no clue about. I earned my right to bear arms. As did many other soldiers, marines, airman and sailors. We fought in the wars, we gave everything for our country. For the rights you complain about. Don’t like it go to Afghanistan see what rights they have.

  12. Willie

    If a person obtains a concealed carry permit in order to legally carry their firearm,would it seem strange if these permit holders carried their firearms concealed? Not at all,and the Sheriff encouraging them to so would not be any different than if the Sheriff encouraged licensed drivers to drive their cars.
    What the hell is the big deal?
    Many people in our society have had absolutely zero experience with firearms, they were never in the military ,they never owned a firearm, and they never held or fired a firearm….is this the reason they appear to be terrified of firearms??
    I am terrified of the unbridled influence of corporations as well as the immoral politicians we elect.

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