The Kingston Common Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to approve a non-binding resolution calling on state and federal officials to enact tougher regulations on firearms. The vote came after 90 minutes of sometimes-emotional public comment both for and against the resolution.
The resolution, drafted by Common Council Majority Leader and SUNY New Paltz professor of American history Rennie Scott-Childress, runs nearly 800 words and includes statistics and statements on the causes and toll of mass shootings and other forms of gun violence. It ends with a call for state and federal lawmakers to reject campaign contributions from gun rights groups like the NRA, enact stricter licensing and registration requirements for guns, a ban on “all classes of weapons that do not serve the specific uses of personal protection and sport shooting” and other gun control measures. The resolution doesn’t impact local laws regulating firearms.
At Tuesday’s meeting of the Common Council, about 20 people addressed the issue in a public comment period that extended a full hour beyond the regularly allotted 30 minutes. Among the speakers were a contingent of seven Kingston High School students who helped organize a March 14 school walkout to protest gun violence. The students spoke about the fear they felt in the wake of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. and the need for more action to prevent future massacres.
“It should not be the new normal and I worry that society is becoming numb to the deaths of children and young adults,” said KHS freshman Nina Milgrim. “What’s another massacre of children? Is it just an opportunity to offer prayers and condolences and move on to something else?”
Aleca Pardo, 16, expressed frustration with the lack of action on gun control and the dismissive attitudes of some elected officials towards student activism on the issue.
“I don’t want to live in a society where I am afraid to go to school,” said Pardo. “I am tired of politicians telling us that we are uneducated on this issue, telling us to shut up and wait for change. We’ve been waiting for change.”
Opponents of the resolution said that it would have little or no impact on the gun debate and was presumptuous in its representation as a statement of belief for city residents.
“No alderman on this council campaigned on or was elected to provide their opinions about what their constituents believe about federal and state gun control,” said Vincent Rua. “Mr. Childress is exploiting this tragedy.”
Joe Liuni of Tillson spoke as president of the Federated Sportsmen’s Club of Ulster County. Liuni said that he was especially angered by sections of the resolution taking the NRA to task for promoting violence as a valid response to fear and anger. Liuni noted that the gun rights groups included many police officers, veterans and responsible, law abiding gun owners who sought to make society safer through gun safety education and advocacy. He also blasted gun control groups for exploiting the Parkland massacre.
“Some of these groups should be ashamed of the way they have used the deaths of these children and these other kids to advance their agenda,” said Liuni.
On the council floor, Alderman Tony Davis (D-Ward 6) moved to table the resolution for a month in response to one speakers call for more time to solicit public input. The measure was seconded by Pat O’Reilly (Ward 7) but ultimately defeated in a 7-2 vote.
“That’s how democracy works,” Davis said addressing the assembled students after the vote. “You don’t always get what you want. Do I hold a grudge, no, do I have a secret agenda, no. It’s all about compromise.”
Scott-Childress addressed some of the comments which he said, did not pertain to the resolution he had drafted. Scott-Childress also characterized the resolution as the start of a conversation about gun control and invited city residents to come up with their own ideas.
“This is a symbolic gesture towards our future direction,” said Scott-Childress. “We would like to discuss the possibility of related legislation, so anybody in this room, anybody in the city I would be happy to sit down and discuss these issues with you.”
Mayor Steve Noble said he signed the resolution on Wednesday morning. Noble praised the resolution as well researched and full of “common sense” ideas for state and federal lawmakers. Like Scott-Childress, Noble also called the resolution the start of a broader effort to address gun violence.
“This is the start of a conversation,” said Noble. “Together with the Common Council we are going to work together to see if there are things we can do on the local level.”