The Saugerties Town Board voted at its regular meeting on Wednesday, June 15, to refund $2,000 to David Petronis of NEACA [New East coast Arms Collectors Association], Inc. for the cancellation of use of a town facility. The cancellation was for a gun show planned at the Kiwanis Ice Arena at Cantine Field for June 17-19.
Before the board could vote on the motion, Councilman Zach Horton offered an amendment to allow the gun show to go forward. The amendment was rejected by a vote of 3-2, with Peg Nau and Horton voting for it and Supervisor Fred Costello, Councilwoman Leeanne Thornton and Councilman Michael Ivino voting against. On the main motion, to refund NEACA’s deposit, the vote was 4-1, with Nau abstaining, Horton voting against and Costello, Thornton and Ivino in favor.
In offering his amendment, Horton thanked the many people who had reached out to him through phone calls, text messages and emails, “I spoke with nearly 200 people in the community,” he said.”Many were advocates of this show being put forward and many were not.”
Horton said he was particularly disappointed “that the whole board did not actively participate in this process [the decision to cancel the show]. I could not understand why this board did not meet in person to discuss this matter, even though meetings in person were requested.” Had the board met in person, a better solution could have been reached.”
The first speaker in the public discussion preceding the vote, Elmer LeSuer, the legislative director for the Federated Sportsmen’s Clubs of Ulster County, said actions to shut down the gun show were “at best questionable and at worst inappropriate in the way the events have unfolded. There has been rushed action, incomplete releases and misinformation that have been picked up by the gun show supporters. People attending the meeting want to show the support for the show that exists in the community. The gun show has been coming to Saugerties for years, years, without incident. People who have little or no education or experience with firearms are making laws and decisions that won’t work and can’t be enforced on the bad guys,” he said.
LeSuer offered to accompany anyone interested to attend the show with him and see for themselves how safe the show is.
Cyn Kendall “implored” the board to vote against the gun show. She has been a member of Moms Demand Action for more than five years, describing it as “a grassroots organization representing citizens across the country promoting public safety measures that can protect people from gun violence. The movement is not just mothers but a cross section of citizens working to prevent gun violence. Our group also includes people who own guns, but who are part of our group because they understand the importance of gun safety.”
Aside from group membership, Kendall said she is a mother and has been a special education teacher at Mount Marion Elementary for the past 32 years. And when she started teaching, she never considered gun violence something that could ever happen in her classroom, “Yet, now it has become a stark reality in schools across this country, and it could happen in our very own school district. Now our role is not only to teach but to potentially protect the children in our school district from the possibility of a shooting in an environment that should be a safe haven.”
Kendall’s children, now in their 20s, have grown up wondering “not if a shooting will happen, but when,” she said.
Ralph Mayonne was one of several speakers who warned that canceling the contract with Petronis could lead to devastating legal and financial consequences. Referring to a quote in a local newspaper, the Police Chief said that if there was any trouble, the gun show would be shut down. “Can this be done legally and financially; how is it possible?” he asked. He also questioned the definition of trouble. “If a protester bumps into a gun owner, is that trouble?” Mayonne asked. He also asserted that more people die in motor vehicle accidents than are killed with guns, but nobody is talking about banning them.
Brian Donoghue said he is not anti-gun, but pro common sense. “I’m here tonight to encourage the board to speak with a unified voice in support of Fred’s motion to refund the deposit and thus effectively cancel the gun show.” At a time when there are so many mass shootings in this country, “I am disheartened to think that someone would think it’s a good idea to hold a gun show on town property,” he said. Children play across the street and a school is nearby, he said. Citing a figure of more than 250 mass shootings this year, Donoghue said gun death “is an epidemic. The discussion this evening should not be about being pro gun or anti gun, it should be about community, how we as a community respond to outside groups when they come in and agitate and when they disrespect our town and try to make a quick buck at our expense.”
Laura Phillips said she has two grandchildren in Saugerties Junior-Senior High School and “I don’t want the gun culture to engage with them. My husband always had a gun, a deer rifle. Guns are tools and should be used for hunting, by law enforcement; they have instead become a national obsession and treated as toys.” A gun show promotes this view, and in particular can influence young people, she said, noting that the advertising for the show offers free admission to children under 14 accompanied by an adult.
Petronis appeared to see the calling off of the show, and then its reinstatement as a positive development on his website, Phillips said. “He said, ‘I expect the TV cameras to be rolling in my shop Saturday to Monday. Controversy brings news, and news brings people.’ I’m asking the Town Board to do the responsible thing — cancel this gun show and cease further rentals of the arena for this purpose.”
Another speaker cited more than 42,000 deaths in one year caused by traffic accidents. “If I came here tonight to ask you to cancel the giant car show, which you all enjoy, you would probably tell me the car show is in no way related to these traffic deaths. Yet here we are tonight planning to cancel the gun show that is in no way related to the mass shootings both here in New York and in Texas.”
Richard Hoffa said that many speakers had raised the question of timing in opposing the show because of the massacres around the country, “but if we wait until there are no more massacres, the problem will be solved because we will never have another gun show.”
Mike Leone, the President of the Federated Sportsmen’s Clubs of Ulster County, said the gun “is the single most regulated object in this country. None of the new laws that have been proposed or passed in the last 30 years have done anything to prevent criminal activity, only restricted the second amendment. In films of demonstrations he has seen misinformation and “a few outright lies,” he said. “If somebody is going to argue a point, at least get educated,” he said. “Two weeks ago somebody plowed through a parade with a vehicle. That doesn’t make the death of children any less terrible,” he said, “but we’re not blocking the sale of motor vehicles.”
If you move to block the gun show on town property, where are you going to draw the line on discrimination for the next person that wants to use town property? Is it going to be race? Is it going to be sexual preference? Where are you going to draw the line?”
Former Councilman John Schoonmaker said, as had many others, that the issue is not guns, but the appropriateness of the venue. If the board had taken action to have the gun show someplace other than the ice arena when it first came up, another venue could have been found, he said. Now it’s too late and the option of finding another, more appropriate venue is no longer available.
The final speaker criticized the manner of handling the issue, as the full board was not involved. The Supervisor and Police Chief met with the promoter; the rest of the board was not involved, she said and this was wrong.
After the public comments, Town Board members offered their comments.
“This is not a second amendment issue, nor should it be a political issue,” said Councilwoman Leeanne Thornton. “The promoter has chosen to make it one by his very divisive comments on his website and the media while seeking vendors right up to today.”
While people may believe the laws regarding guns can’t be changed, individuals can have a great deal of influence through their votes, writing letters, petitioning and so on, Thornton said.
Supervisor Costello said Petronis, in their initial discussions, had appeared to be sensitive to the feelings that had been aroused by recent incidents of gun violence. In light of the understanding he showed in their initial conversations, Costello said, he believes Petronis is sensitive to the feelings these events have aroused and he is sorry that Petronis decided to bring the gun show back.
“It doesn’t make you anti gun to have a concern about consistent gun violence,” Costello said. “We are 190 days into the year and we have had 240 mass shootings. We have become callous to a degree. If it is not eight or nine or ten [victims] it rarely makes the news cycle.” He noted that a major softball tournament will be going on nearby, as well as other family events on the adjacent ball fields, and it would be insensitive to hold the gun show there so close to these fields. On the other hand, “being a savvy business man, he saw the media hype this controversy has generated. He saw the economic impact it has afforded his show. I think he wants to have the show now because a show that might have been marginal would be one of his best.”
In his two years on the Town Board, Councilman Michael Ivino has legislated for the best interests of the town, he said. In the ongoing discussion of the gun show, while describing himself as a supporter of the Second Amendment, Ivino said, “The process that led up to this gun show, and the turmoil surrounding it, were completely uncalled for by the people on both sides, as well as us as board members. The promoter took heed in good will to the sensitivities of the controversy surrounding this gun show. In less than 24 hours, the promoter turned around and decided he wanted to compete with the political storm. With the press’s involvement and the political storm that ensued, I do not see a safe path forward to have a gun show,” Ivino said. Noting that the arena borders a field full of children, “I can’t feel comfortable that we can guarantee that nothing will happen at this event. I will not be the person to sit up here and have something tragic go wrong, and have a parent come up to me and ask me why I let this happen.” Ivino called for a full discussion with the board and inclusion of the officers of the sportsmen’s clubs who spoke. The town needs to work out how, when and where a gun show would be appropriate, but his show is at the wrong time and the wrong place, he said.