As he looked out over the crowd, Schoharie Mayor John Borst couldn’t help but draw parallels to other monumental events in the village’s 300-year history.
In the last quarter of the 18th century, the village and the rest of the Schoharie Valley was considered the breadbasket of the American Revolution, providing corn, vegetables and wheat for Colonial troops. In 1780, it was ground zero to the Johnson/Brant raid that destroyed acres of crops and burned more than 100 buildings to the ground. In 2011, it was where neighbors helped each other rebuild after floodwaters tore through homes and upended lives.
“I look out at this crowd and I see history repeating itself,” said Borst, addressing some 500 people gathered on the front lawn of Lasell Hall, nearly spilling out onto Main and Spring streets. “This is ground zero for what we’re trying to do today, and every one of you is making a difference. But if we all stick together, we’ll make a much bigger difference.”
Just one day after Schoharie County supervisors announced they would not enforce the state’s new gun control law, the village of Schoharie hosted a We the People Second Amendment Rally outside the historic home of the Schoharie chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution.
Rallies on both sides of the gun rights debate were also taking place in Saratoga Springs on Saturday, attended by dozens of protesters and Second Amendment supporters.
Community officials and residents from throughout the Schoharie Valley showed up at the Schoharie rally with signs bearing the familiar slogans “Don’t tread on me” and “Liberty.” Country living was a strong theme throughout the two-hour event, where participants showed up in blue jeans, camouflage and plaid, and speakers took to a podium tucked against hay stacked four bales high.
They lamented the new gun laws for myriad reasons, chief among them what they call disrespect for a way of life that includes hunting and a tradition of sportsmanship.
“We come from dairy farms, and our dairy farming families weren’t rich by anybody’s stretch of the imagination,” said Esperance town Supervisor Earl Van Wormer III. “So we learned from our family how to hunt, trap and fish, and that was part of our livelihood. We made a few bucks from the furs, we ate the game that we killed, the things that we fished we enjoyed. So it’s not just a political issue here; it’s an emotional issue.”
Anger has rippled across upstate New York, including rural Schoharie County, ever since Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state Legislature passed the NY Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act in January. After two well-attended rallies at the state Capitol, Schoharie County finally got its turn to play host.
The Board of Supervisors brought out two food trucks for the occasion and invited allies on the state Legislature to rev up the crowd. State Sen. Jim Seward, R-Milford, Assemblyman Pete Lopez, R-Schoharie, and a representative for U.S. Rep. Chris Gibson, R-Kinderhook, assured the crowd that the fight was not over.
“I am proud to be with you today, to stand shoulder to shoulder with you until this SAFE Act is gone,” Seward said to cheers. “Now look, as a father and a grandfather, I have been as horrified as anyone — as all of you are, I’m sure — of what we have seen regarding gun violence. I am sensitive to that. But I also understand the realities of gun violence. It’s the criminal element. It’s the dangerously mentally ill. They’re the problem, not the weapon, and not you the law-abiding citizens and gun owners of New York state.”
Carlisle town Supervisor Larry Bradt was upset with the state passing down what he called another unfunded mandate. Cuomo’s proposed state budget includes about $32.7 million to establish a pistol permit database and another $3.2 million for state police to enforce the new law. The Senate’s version of the budget removed both funding items, but the governor has said the final budget will include money for both.
“There’s much better uses for that money to our schools,” said Bradt. “Schoharie Valley’s been devastated by a flood. Lets use that money in that budget for better purposes than checking up on law-abiding citizens.”
Bradt, who organized the rally, riled the crowd with a slew of seismic metaphors — the law’s passage was an earthquake, he said, and the subsequent county resolutions that came out decrying the law were aftershocks.
“And by the way Albany, there’s a ‘We the People’ tsunami headed directly your way,” he said. “Whether you know it or not, it’s headed your way.”
Two counties to the northeast, another tremor took hold Saturday at the second gun show held in Saratoga Springs this year. The first Saratoga Arms Fair in January was a success, drawing thousands of gun buyers and dozens of protesters and Second Amendment supporters. The second show on Saturday drew a much smaller crowd and fewer protesters than the first go-round at the City Center, but passions were still intense on both sides of the issue.
The show — and protests — will continue today.
In the middle of it all Saturday was James DeHeer of Saratoga Springs. He stood between police barricades dividing a group of about 20 in support of gun control and a handful of pro-gun advocates.
DeHeer said people should have access to guns only if they can pass a psychological evaluation, an empathy test and perhaps a few other metrics.
“They both have good points,” he said, before adding that the two sides had a tendency to be too extreme.
Reporter David Lombardo contributed to this article.