The political response in Saugerties to Ulster County Sheriff Paul Van Blarcum’s call for men and women with legal gun permits to carry their weapons in public ranged from silence to the succinct to the verbose.
Van Blarcum’s Facebook posting stirred a national controversy in the wake of the massacre of 14 people in San Bernardino, California, by a Muslim couple who, the FBI has concluded, had been “inspired” to action by the Islamic State.
Most of those officials responding to the request for comment supported Van Blarcum and his statement; only Town Board member Leeanne Thornton disagreed with what the sheriff said.
Republican county Legislator Dean Fabiano said he didn’t believe the statement was intended to cause an uproar.
“If you have a pistol permit you have a right to carry it,” he said.
What he called “the gun-control people” were “making a stink” about it and politicizing the issue.
“I stand by what the sheriff said. And so do the people I talk to — the people where I work and my neighbors. They don’t seem to have a problem with it.”
In light of what he called “today’s politically correct atmosphere,” Town Board member Bill Schirmer said he was surprised by Van Blarcum’s statement, and that he supported his opinion and his right to voice it.
“I think he was simply pointing out that the world is a dangerous place, the level of threat is increasing and the police cannot be everywhere at all times,” said Schirmer. “I did not view it as a call to vigilantism as many are suggesting. I don’t see us reverting to a ‘Wild West’ atmosphere because licensed handgun owners may be carrying more often.”
Schirmer dismissed the charge voiced by opponents of the statement that Van Blarcum was “encouraging everyone to go out and get a gun.”
“As someone with deep roots in the firearms community, I can assure you that the vast majority of the law-abiding gun owners understand and respect the tremendous responsibility that comes with owning a weapon,” he said.
Schirmer, who said he holds a concealed weapon permit, said recent mass shootings “have certainly made me think about when I deem it is appropriate to carry.”
Thornton said that while she respected Van Blarcum’s right to say what he said and thought highly of him as a professional, she disagreed with his statement.
“I’m very concerned with the potential number of victims that could result,” she said.
Thornton said she understood and supported people’s right to have guns for the protection of their homes and families, but she believed the sheriff’s statement could be construed as encouraging people to get involved in cases in which they might as easily become victims.
“I understand the sheriff’s intent, but how do you monitor? You just can’t know the circumstances.”
Town Republican Party Chairman Joe Roberti said he believed the statement had been misconstrued by some.
“I believe the sheriff’s point is that in light of recent mass shootings, the public should remain vigilant and those people with registered firearms should be prepared to defend themselves and others within the confines of the law,” he said.
Asked to comment by email on the sheriff’s statement, Town Conservative Party Chairman George Heidcamp needed only a few words: “I’m behind the sheriff 100 percent.”
Town Democratic Chairman Lanny Walter said he’d shared his views on the matter directly with Van Blarcum and didn’t want to discuss them publicly.
Others didn’t return several emailed requests for comment by Tuesday afternoon, including Police Chief Joe Sinagra, Town Supervisor Greg Helsmoortel, and county legislators Mary Wawro and Chris Allen.