More than 300 people turned up for a rally Thursday night with local elected officials and members of law enforcement opposed to the state's SAFE Act.
The rally was held at the Holiday Inn in Johnstown, and by the time the first speaker approached the podium, people were standing alongside the walls of the hotel's conference room for a lack of seats and spilling out into the lobby.
Among those featured at the event were Assemblyman Marc Butler, state Sen. Jim Tedisco, Tom King, president of the NY Rifle and Pistol Association, Fulton County Sheriff Richard Giardino and Schoharie County Sheriff Anthony Desmond.
The SAFE Act, a piece of gun control legislation passed in the state after the Sandy Hook massacre, seeks to limit high-capacity magazines and broadens the legal definition of an assault weapon, among other provisions. The act also requires holders of handgun permits to re-certify every five years with a local county clerk or sheriff, and has provisions regarding the transfer and sale of firearms that are tighter than the state's previous gun control measures.
Butler, a Republican, recently introduced legislation with a fellow Senate Republican that would repeal the SAFE Act everywhere but New York City. The legislation initially applied only to upstate New York, but gun enthusiasts on Long Island and in Westchester County asked that their regions be added to the bill. The legislation is co-sponsored by Sen. Rob Ortt, who represents a district in far western New York near the Canadian border.
All of the speakers were unanimous in their opposition to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who spearheaded the SAFE Act as a response to Sandy Hook and called it the toughest piece of gun control legislation in the country.
Tedisco said attending gun rallies is great, but voting people in favor of gun control out of office is the only way to ensure that Second Amendment rights in the state are preserved. Other speakers echoed his sentiment in calling for Cuomo’s ouster in 2018.
Lewis County Sheriff Michael Carpinelli, who has been very vocal in his opposition to the SAFE Act and was invited to speak, had strong words for Cuomo.
Carpinelli said many in his family are hunters as well as retired military.
“So we understood at heart what the Second Amendment was,” he said, “and this damn governor of ours doesn’t get it. That it’s not about hunting, it’s about the right to defend one’s life, defend one’s family, and to defend one’s country. As it states, we have the right to bear arms against a tyrannical government to not infringe upon us.”
Carpinelli clarified that his statement wasn’t a call to arms, but told the crowd, “What we need to do is bear our vote, and to stick together in our voting. And don’t be afraid to say, ‘Get Cuomo out of there, he doesn’t deserve to be there.’ ”
Supporters of Butler’s bill ask: If New York City has separate regulations governing things like ride-hailing or minimum wage, why can't upstate New York have separate regulations regarding guns.
Butler said after the rally that the gun control issue very much pertains to different attitudes and cultures between residents of New York City and those who live upstate.
“We just feel that we’re dictated to by the powers that be out of New York City. We’re a different culture, we believe different things, we want different things for our kids, and we’re just saying, ‘Let us live our lives the way we want to, and you can go your way,' ” said Butler. “They just seem determined to change the way we live and we’re against it.”
Tedisco and other elected officials and members of law enforcement called on the crowd to write their local legislators in support of the repeal bill, and to vote for candidates who oppose gun control.
“Rallies are great, but campaigns win elections,” said Tedisco.
Crowd members also were encouraged to attend legislative sessions when the bill is up for discussion, as pro-gun control supporters will almost certainly be in attendance.
Giardino said sheriffs upstate are uniform in their opposition to the SAFE Act, and that the turnout at Thursday night’s rally was evidence that people throughout the state care about this issue.
“There’s a number of people here from other counties, I think it tells you that people care about their Second Amendment rights and they feel those rights are under seige,” he said.
Desmond said the veterans in Schoharie County returned stateside only to find that they have to fight for their rights at home.
“My wish is the governor would go back to New York City and leave us alone,” he said.
Harold Achzet of Johnstown, who came to the rally with a large American flag, he and his friends came “because we want the SAFE Act repealed and we want Cuomo out of office.”
He added that public and gun safety is important, but believes there were enough rules on the books before the SAFE Act.
“We’re here for the United States, we’re here for New York State, and we’re here for [President Donald] Trump,” said Achzet. “I think he’s going to do an excellent job.”
Sandy Harrington of Gloversville said she came to the rally to support the repeal legislation and to lend her voice to those calling for getting Cuomo out of office.
“I absolutely would vote against Cuomo on this one issue,” said Harrington. “People need to get out and vote, they can’t be complacent. Upstate New York needs to take care of this.”