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Sheriffs' call to arms has backers, detractors

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Sheriffs' call to arms has backers, detractors

Not long after Ulster County Sheriff Paul J. Van Blarcum urged residents with licensed handguns to a
Sheriffs' call to arms has backers, detractors
Fulton County Sheriff Thomas J. Lorey, seen here in 2011, is supporting sheriffs in New York who are asking people with licenses to carry guns to do so.
Photographer: Marc Schultz

Not long after Ulster County Sheriff Paul J. Van Blarcum urged residents with licensed handguns to arm themselves in light of recent violence both in the U.S. and abroad, Delaware County Sheriff Thomas E. Mills made a similar call.

On Tuesday, Mills endorsed Van Blarcum’s Dec. 3 plea for licensed gun owners to “responsibly take advantage of your legal right to carry a firearm,” which caused an uproar from people both praising and condemning the statement.

“I am not encouraging vigilantism, nor am I asking anyone who does not believe in guns to change their opinion,” Mills wrote in a public statement. “I am seeking assistance instead from the people who already have a licensed weapon, are proficient in using it and understand their lawful responsibilities.”

In essence, Mills writes, if someone is shooting at you or others, shoot back if you can.

“When it becomes increasingly difficult to go a day in this country without reading about an active shooter tragedy occurring somewhere, it is time to stop talking and start taking appropriate action,” he wrote.

Sullivan County Sheriff Michael Schiff made a similar plea on Tuesday.

In Fulton County, Sheriff Tom Lorey, a vocal opponent of the NY-SAFE Act and supporter of Second Amendment rights, said Tuesday he supports those sheriffs.

“I stand with them 100 percent, 150 percent,” he said.

He said he does not think the statements contribute to an atmosphere of paranoia or hysteria, as some critics have charged.

“The folks who have licenses to carry firearms have done that so that they can defend themselves from life-threatening issues,” he said. “I think that the times we’re facing today, if you have a handgun, you should become proficient in its use and carry it with you wherever you go.”

Gary Pudup, a regional coordinator for New Yorkers Against Gun Violence, said Wednesday he finds these statements “troubling” and “unprofessional.”

Pudup is retired from a 30-year career in law enforcement, including 20 years with the Monroe County Sheriff’s Department and more than 10 years training first responders to react to critical situations, including active shooters.

He said the idea of a “good guy with a gun” stopping bad guys — a recurring bit of rhetoric from the National Rifle Association — is part of the “American mythology” that is not borne out by the data.

“There’s no evidence at all that carrying a gun is going to somehow keep you safer,” he said. “Actually, carrying a gun vastly increases the likelihood that you yourself are going to end up getting shot, or even more likely that you’re going to end up shooting someone else or accidentally shooting yourself.”

Even the trained professionals he worked with, he said, had difficulty in active-shooter scenarios. Expecting civilians to properly handle the situation is unrealistic at best and dangerous at worst, he said.

“These seem to be remarks made not out of reason, but basically out of emotion,” he said. “Clearly when we’re faced with the situations that we are here in the United States in the last few years, with the increase of mass shootings, people tend to feel defenseless. They just want to do something. But cooler heads have to prevail and we have to do things that actually solve the problem.”

With just a handful of county sheriffs in the state making such calls — he noted that it tends to be sheriffs, an elected position, who make this kind of statement — he said this is an almost negligible position among law enforcement professionals.

In Schoharie County, Sheriff Tony Desmond said he’s seen pistol permit applications spike in recent days, especially since President Barack Obama, speaking in the wake of the San Bernardino attack that left 14 dead, called for tighter controls on assault weapons.

Speaking on Tuesday, Desmond said his office had eight pistol permit applications in the two previous days. Normally, he said, two or three in one day was a busy day.

A lot of those permits, he said, and the buying he sees in gun shops, come from a sort of “get it while you can” mentality.

Jim McCarthy, owner of Jim McCarthy Guns in Amsterdam, said he has seen the same thing over the past several months as mass shootings have spurred a national conversation about gun control. He has a small shop, he said, but he’s noticed an uptick in sales.

“They’re afraid of these characters in Albany and Washington acting like a bunch of idiots,” he said.

At Frank’s Gun and Tackle in Gloversville, employee Mark Autilio said they’ve been busy, but it’s hard to tell if that’s due to current events or the normal holiday buying season.

“Some are talking about the chain of events and some are not,” he said. “I think their attitudes are, they’re becoming more willing to be prepared.”

Unlike Van Blarcum, Mills and Lorey, Desmond is more reserved about a call to arms, saying he’s in favor of the right to carry, but concerned about an overreaction.

Using a gun the way police do, he said, is not the same as target practice or hunting.

“I would say just be careful and think about it ahead of time, what you can do in that situation,” he said. “I don’t want people to get in trouble with their guns.”

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