About 500 opponents of New York’s new gun control law huddled against a bitter wind outside the state Capitol on Tuesday to chant for freedom and their constitutional right to bear arms, while a smaller group inside praised lawmakers for backing the nation’s toughest law on gun restrictions.
Gun rights’ advocates, who criticized Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislators who enacted the law last month, recited the Pledge of Allegiance, sang the national anthem and took a collective oath to uphold the U.S. Constitution. The group Turn Albany Upside Down, a rally organizer, said both the quick passage of the measure and some provisions are unlawful. They called the seven-bullet limit on magazines “arbitrary and capricious.”
“It’s about a right that we have that we’re not going to give up,” Carl Paladino, 2010 Republican gubernatorial candidate, told the gathering. He blamed GOP senators who backed the Democratic governor’s gun bill, specifically GOP Senate leader Dean Skelos, for failing to support conservative Republican values.
Inside the Capitol, about 75 members of One Million Moms for Gun Control and other groups thanked Cuomo and lawmakers for leadership in setting gun limits they expect to help reduce violence. They filled a staircase and cheered speakers, including Assemblyman Brian Kavanagh, who said the law’s provisions to prevent private gun sales without a background check, ban assault weapons, require pistol license renewals and restrict gun access by the mentally ill won’t be repealed or watered down.
Industry groups have lobbied for years to prevent what he called common-sense measures to reduce gun violence, but this time it went through, Kavanagh said. “It’s because for the first time in a long time we are hearing a groundswell of support from ordinary New Yorkers like the people behind me who are saying, ‘Enough is enough.’ ”
Yvette Forehand, holding a photograph of her 23-year-old son, Rory, who was shot dead in East Harlem in 2007 after a friend’s party, said he had just graduated from college and passed the fire department exam and that his fiancee was pregnant. “I want to see a change. Since my son’s murder, it seems like it has been endless with the gun violence and the massive scale.”
Cuomo cited the December killings of 20 first-graders and six educators at a Connecticut elementary school as one of his motivations for pushing the gun control legislation. Authorities have said the troubled 20-year-old shooter used a semi-automatic rifle and had large detachable magazines. Those rifles are illegal under New York’s law if they have one military-style feature such as a pistol grip, flash suppressor or bayonet mount. The law calls for registration of formerly legal guns such as the popular AR-15 now classified as an illegal assault weapon that can’t be bought or sold in New York.
“We will not comply!” outdoor demonstrators chanted. Several held flags that said, “Don’t tread on me.” One placard showed an AR-15 and called it “Modern Musket.”
Jeff Senecal, 42, who runs his own plumbing and heating business in Duanesburg, attended the rally with his teenage daughters and 10-year-old son. He said many Americans are uninformed about their constitutional rights.
“If we don’t learn the lessons of history, we’re doomed to repeat them,” he said. “I am extremely aware and extremely concerned about where we’re heading as a country, where we’re running into — I call it incrementalism — where they just keep taking little bits of freedom away from me at a time.”
Social and economic conditions underlie the problems of violent crime and personal responsibility needs to be taught to children at a young age to address those, Senecal said.
Paladino said lawmakers must address the failure of city schools because dropouts on the street are often the ones committing crimes. But he acknowledged that gun registration and restricting gun access by the mentally ill are legitimate issues.
Scott Reif, a Skelos spokesman, countered Paladino’s charge that Skelos has abandoned conservative values, citing among his most recent legislative victories an increase in penalties for those who use illegal guns and a mandated life sentence without parole for anyone who kills a first responder.