A proposed firearm storage law drew a standing-room-only crowd of mostly gun owners to the Woodstock Town Board meeting March 21 as council members attempt to balance safety with the right to self defense. The law, as proposed by Councilman Jay Wenk, would require firearms to be secured in a cabinet or with a trigger lock when not in the owner’s immediate possession.
“All firearms in the town of Woodstock, whether handguns or long rifles and shotguns and all air guns will be secured, unloaded in locked cabinets and/or protected with trigger locks whenever the firearm or air gun is out of the owner’s or custodian’s immediate possession or control,” the resolution states. Violating the law would be punishable by a $500 fine, 120 days in jail or both.
Supervisor Bill McKenna has voiced his concerns about a law that he characterized as punitive in nature and suggested efforts are better directed toward safety education. He suggested Wenk reach out to the area gun clubs, which denied that there was any such contact.
“I am a board member of the High Woods Gun Club,” said Ed Altenau. “It was never discussed at the board meeting so I’d like to know who they talked to.”
Wittenberg Sportsmen’s Club Vice President Bob Bloomer said nobody contacted the organization except McKenna, who said Wenk would be calling. “Our gun club went as far as even offering free gun safety classes to the town…perhaps at the community center or our club. Nobody ever contacted any of the officers or any members,” said Bloomer.
Wenk said he called everyone on a list given to him by McKenna “at least twice,” to which Bloomer responded “I’m giving you my word. You didn’t call, bottom line.”
Added Bloomer, “This town needs to address the real problem. And the real problem is the drugs that are coming into this town. That’s where your problem begins,” he added.
Police Chief Clayton Keefe said the last theft of guns in the town was in 2010 when 12 long guns were taken from a locked cabinet in a Wittenberg home. Because the owner had the serial numbers registered, they were recovered by Kingston police within three days, Keefe said.
Former Ulster County Undersheriff Frank Faluotico tried to drive the point home that Wenk’s legislation is unnecessary from a gun owner’s and law enforcement perspective. “There’s not a person in this room, Jay, that disagrees with gun safety. We are all on the same page with that,” he said. “We’re not here to attack you. We’re here to tell you the faults of your actions.”
Faluotico said “immediate possession” is contained within one’s residence or vehicle, so Wenk’s proposal is “already defeated” by the definition of immediate possession. “There are too many laws already on the books that have been created by town boards like this, county legislatures like ours, state assemblies and state senates like ours, that, one, have no money in them for education, which yours does not; have no money in it for enforcement, which yours does not; have no money for community outreach, which yours does not,” said Faluotico. “If somebody wants to commit suicide, if they can’t get a gun, then you’re going to have to go to the Rhinecliff Bridge and start a law there.”
Faluotico said he is willing to work with Wenk on gun safety, “but what it’s going to take you to do is to pull this law off the table, forget the nonsense that’s going on here tonight, allow everybody to go home, and we’ll work on something to educate the public together.”
A political decision?
But Alexandra Dubruff, volunteer for New Yorkers Against Gun Violence, said Wenk’s proposal is straightforward and not unprecedented. “It’s basically if you don’t have the gun on your person or within your immediate control, you lock it up. It’s really simple,” she said. “Just as we take safety precautions with swimming pools, medicine bottles and seat belts in cars, we must have precautions around firearms in our home for the safety of our loved ones, especially our kids.”
She said safer storage of guns can prevent suicides, many of which are committed with a firearm.
“Suicide is an impulsive act, and in many instances, suicidal feelings will pass if a suicide attempt is unsuccessful,” Dubruff said.
Some in the crowd shouted mental health is a separate issue, prompting McKenna to implore the audience to let Dubruff finish.
At times emotionally overwhelmed, Dubruff told the board Woodstock would join Rochester, Syracuse, Buffalo, Westchester County, NYC, Saratoga Springs, Albany, and Beacon in enacting safe firearm storage legislation. “This resolution would complement the New York SAFE Act because you are only required to store your firearm safely if you are living with a felon or someone who has been adjudicated as mentally ill” under the current law, she said.
Attorney Stuart Lipkind believes the town is on solid legal footing in adopting such a law, despite opinions that it is overreaching or even made redundant by existing law.
“Under municipal home rule, this town does have the authority,” he said, under the principle of protecting the health, safety and welfare of its residents. “Whether they (the Town Board) vote to do so is really a political decision.” Lipkind noted language was added to the SAFE Act to ensure safe storage legislation adopted by municipalities could not be pre-empted.
McKenna countered that the Association of Towns believes such laws are beyond the scope of a town board and concedes there are differences in opinion. “If attorneys all agreed, we wouldn’t have courts,” McKenna said.
The sportsmen’s club representatives said nobody is more conscientious about gun safety than registered owners, a point Lipkind acknowledged but added there’s room for improvement. “Not every gun owner is as diligent about gun safety as everybody in this room. If they were, we wouldn’t have these incidents with children.”
Councilman Richard Heppner said the board needs to build consensus before moving forward with any legislation. If the board decides on a law at all, it needs to be reviewed by an attorney. But, there are better ways to direct those resources, he noted. “Talk about money for a lawyer… I’d rather see money spent for education,’ Heppner said.
Gun safety task force
McKenna said a task force will be comprised of Wenk, Keefe and gun club representatives. It will further explore Wenk’s resolution, but it’s first goal will be to schedule gun safety classes within the next six to eight weeks.
Keefe thanked Wenk for bringing the issue to light and fostering discussion and said gun owners need to be responsible. “You may find a gun in my house,” said Keefe. “You’re not going to find the bullets.”
Keefe said his biggest fear is handguns. People take them out of their home and even though they’re not supposed to, they leave them unsecured in their car when they go into a store.
Still, the chief believes in a person’s right to self defense.
“If somebody lives on a dead-end road 10 minutes outside the village, there’s always a delayed response,” Keefe said. “I don’t want to be the one to tell somebody that their gun needs to be locked up.”