Stunned by the recent back-to-back mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton, proponents of stronger firearms legislation, gun violence survivors, law enforcement and researchers vowed Monday to exert political pressure to curtail attacks.
About 20 speakers attended Congresswoman Nita Lowey’s (D-Harrison) roundtable discussion at the Greenburgh Public Library as victim counts from gun violence and mass shootings continue to spiral.
Lowey, who called on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to reconvene the Senate from its August recess to pass a pair of national background check laws while reiterating her support for the banning of assault weapons and a national red flag law, said the victims and their family and friends deserve to see the bloodshed come to an end.
“We have too many guns and too few laws on the books to protect our communities from the senseless acts of violence,” Lowey said.
Participants in the roughly 90-minute forum uniformly agreed with Lowey that there is a direct correlation between the number of firearms in circulation and the number of deaths by gunfire. Dr. Charles Branas, chair of epidemiology at the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, said the school recently completed a study revealing that mass shooting rates in states with lax gun laws are higher than those with tighter measures.
Meanwhile, New York State, which passed tougher gun laws following the December 2012 Sandy Hook shooting and strengthened them during this year’s legislative session, has seen its number of gunfire deaths continually diminish, he said.
“States that are permissive have significantly higher mass shootings and that applies to all other day-to-day issues as well,” Branas said. “Homicides and suicides are part of that as well. This spillover effect is something to really, really be concerned about.”
White Plains Assistant Police Chief Joseph Castelli said the more restrictive lawmakers can make the legislation, typically the safer the environment.
“New York is very good,” Castelli said. “You’re never going to eliminate it but it’s very good, especially around here. So on a national level, the more restrictive it can be helps some of the areas where it’s already bad.”
During the discussion, Las Vegas shooting survivor Erin Fuller Brian, a Westchester resident and co-president of the Westchester chapter of Brady, which has been fighting for gun control legislation, said it was important for her and others to relate their stories despite the pain it causes.
Brian said opponents of common-sense gun control measures can dismiss generic calls for tighter laws or the citing of statistics but it’s harder for them to do that to her face.
She said national legislation is needed because while New York and other states have effective gun laws, that’s not enough because firearms can find their way across state lines.
“You’re only as safe as the state with the weakest gun laws,” Brian said.
Several high school students also participated in the forum. One student, Samantha Tellefson, who attends Clarkstown South High School in Rockland County, said there has to be greater consequences for violent threats made by peers against fellow students.
Other panelists said the time is at hand to make political gains against the gun lobby. If there is no movement toward some meaningful legislation following the El Paso, Dayton and Gilroy, Calif. shootings the past two weeks, then the answer is to make inroads at the voting booth in 2020.
With polls showing that 92 percent of Americans and 83 percent of gun owners favoring background checks, it’s possible for the tide to change, said Barry Graubart, state deputy chapter leader for advocacy for Moms Demand Action.
“Once again, gun violence has torn apart the lives of Americans,” Graubart said. “No single law can stop all gun violence, but there’s so much more we must do to keep our families safe.”
Lowey said in addition to background checks, a national red flag law and outlawing assault weapons, the proposed Stop Online Ammunition Sales Act would require federal licensed ammunition dealers to confirm the identity of individuals who look to make purchases online.
“Make no mistake: this is not just a mental health issue, it’s a guns issue,” Lowey said. “We cannot let our country continue to devolve into a hub of fear. I’m inspired by the discussions we’ve had today and looking forward to working with all of you to combat the President’s racist, anti-immigrant, hate-filled rhetoric and fight to change gun laws in this country once and for all.”
Rally This Saturday in Chappaqua
Brady Westchester and an assortment of advocacy groups will be holding a Northern Westchester Rally for Gun Reform this Saturday at the gazebo on South Greeley Avenue in downtown Chappaqua from 10 a.m. to noon. For more information about Brady, visit www.bradyunited.org.