GLOVERSVILLE – For retired church school teacher Sally Kwak, the well-publicized shooting injury to Northville native Samuel Poulin in New York City on Sunday convinced her of the need to fight against gun violence.
Kwak spoke at a meeting of concerned city residents organized by the North Main United Methodist Church Wednesday evening. The meeting was held at the church and promoted on the city of Gloversville Facebook page under the title, “Gun Violence: It’s here. It’s been here. It’s time to talk.”
“My son played soccer with Sam,” Kwak said. “I would like to say this is the first time we have been touched by [gun violence] as a family, but that would not be true. We have been touched by suicide, both family and friends, by guns. We are not alone.”
Samuel Poulin, a U.S. Marine Corps. second lieutenant, was injured Sunday near Times Square in New York City when a stray bullet, apparently fired as part of a dispute between street vendors, hit him while he was attending a family gathering. Poulin was released from the hospital Monday.
Poulin’s gunshot injury has been a topic of discussion, as have recent crimes in Gloversville, including the shooting of a bystander during a dispute in May near Naif’s Market on North Main Street. The incident resulted in a woman being airlifted to Albany Medical Center with non-life-threatening injuries. There was also a stabbing death in April.
During her presentation to the group Kwak asked anyone attending the meeting who has not been personally affected by gun violence to please raise their hands. No one did.
Kwak said the U.S. is beset by gun violence. She listed statistics from the Centers for Disease Control that indicate there were 39,707 fire-arm related deaths in the U.S. in 2019, and as of now the nation is on pace to exceed that total for 2021.
“Since January of this year until June 28 there have been 24,749 gun-related deaths,” she said. “It is estimated that there are more than 390 million guns in this country, which means on average that there are 125 guns per 100 residents.”
Kwak argued the U.S. has far more gun-related deaths than any other industrialized nation, but the political difficulties with enacting federal gun control laws put the onus on concerned citizens and local governments to try to tackle the root causes of violent behavior. “Anger, fear, hate, love, culture, family, an individual’s feeling of self worth, and things like depression and mental illness,” she said.
Christine Prokopiak, who works with adult programming at the Gloversville Public Library, spoke in favor of “mindfulness meditation” as a scientifically proven way of reducing violent tendencies among people who engage in the practice.
“We live in a society that is so stressful that we’re all in a state of flight or fight much of the time,” Prokopiak said. “What we need to do is find ways to override that instinct, and turn on what’s called the parenthetic system [opening up] the relaxed response mode.”
Prokopiak said she is starting a “Community Mindfulness Mission” to teach young people mindfulness meditation using an internet-based system.
Joyce Royal, the pastor at the North Main United Methodist Church, said she felt it was necessary to organize a series of discussions about the topic of violence and gun violence in particular. She said talking about gun violence is difficult in rural communities, but the conversation is vital.
“The church that I came from in [the Fulton County town of Bleecker], if I ever said ‘Oh, we’ve got to get rid of some guns’, they’d have thrown me out of there, because they’re all hunters,” she said. “But we need to take responsibility and say, if you’re a responsible gun owner, wherever you are, you’ve got to make sure your guns are locked up.”
Tom Kevlin, a city resident and member of the church, said he’s a hunting enthusiast, and although he isn’t in favor of gun control laws that restrict ammunition clips, he is deeply affected when he sees the results of mass shootings.
“It’s certainly difficult, with the right to bear arms and be able to go out and enjoy hunting and fishing, and then you see the types of weapons mass shooters use [I’m conflicted],” he said. “I’m pro and against, certainly when you see a mass shooting and somebody has a 50-bullet clip; it’s not meant for hunting.”
Mayor Vince DeSantis spoke at the gathering. He said the Gloversville Police Department has organized a series of “Neighborhood Engagement Unit” events where law enforcement and other community service organizations go door-to-door to connect with residents as a means of establishing a stronger relationship with the public and connecting them to available services that can help prevent people’s problems from boiling over into violence.
“The Gloversville Police Department is an elite organization, and it is — and I’ve been told this by judges and prosecutors and other people in both Fulton and Montgomery counties — by far the most professional police organization in the local area,” DeSantis said. “So, we have an enormous asset in terms of the police, and they are going to get into our neighborhoods on a positive note, so they can know all of the people they deal with on a first-name basis, so they will be comfortable coming to the police.”
DeSantis said the city’s Recreation Commission and its free summer recreation program are also ways the city can help steer young people away from violence.
“Young people are under a lot of stress today, and a young mother and father might react with anger, maybe because there are financial problems or other problems, and children pick that up,” DeSantis said. “We kind of recognize that we have a whole segment of our population that are raising children in situations that are stressful. The long-term solution to the problem is nurturing young people, and I’ve long said that enriching and educating the next generation of citizens is probably the most important thing we do as a society.”
The cutoff for registering for the summer recreation program is July 9, and the signup forms are available by contacting City Clerk Jenni Mazur by phone at 518-773-4542 or email at [email protected] The form is also available at cityofgloversville.com.
Royal said she will be holding another community discussion about mass shootings on July 7 at 6 p.m. at the church and then the series will conclude with a meeting with Gloversville Police Chief Anthony Clay, who will discuss domestic violence on July 14, also starting at 6 p.m. at the North Main United Methodist Church, 316 North Main St.