New Castle Councilman Jeremy Saland sparked an intense squabble last week after he argued the town should reject $200,000 state Sen. Terrence Murphy secured for a new basketball court because of his refusal to support commonsense gun legislation.
A discussion during the Town Board’s Feb. 27 work session about a potential local law regarding the safe storage of firearms and ammunition suddenly erupted into a shouting match. Saland called out Murphy for his previous support to repeal the New York SAFE Act and for towing the Senate Republican line to reject a package of Democratic-backed bills designed to bolster the state’s gun laws.
Saland said it’s hypocritical for Murphy to support victims of domestic violence, for example, but fail to back greater gun restrictions in light of the recent Florida high school shooting that he described as “a defining moment.”
As a result, the town should return the $200,000 Murphy obtained in state funds to be used toward the basketball court that is scheduled to be built behind Town Hall next year.
“It sends a message that it’s not about dollars, it’s not about things that are relatively easy to do that you support,” Saland said. “If you stood, genuinely stood, with victims of domestic violence or children, then there is zero rational reason that you could say I can’t support taking the firearms out of their hands if there’s probable cause to believe they’re a danger to themselves or others.”
Supervisor Robert Greenstein attempted to put a halt to Saland’s critique during the meeting, accusing the councilman of putting his political agenda over the good of the town and the board. Greenstein argued that it wasn’t the role of the Town Board to posture politically but to work with New Castle’s elected representatives at other levels of government to enact the toughest legislation possible. He also said the Town Board would pursue writing its own stringent local legislation.
He said the funds Murphy obtained for the town aren’t from special interests but state taxpayer money that shouldn’t be lost because of a disagreement with the senator on a separate issue.
“It doesn’t take courage to say we’re going to return $200,000,” Greenstein said. “That’s political. That doesn’t take courage. That’s a political stunt to be honest with you. What takes courage is coming up with legislation so New Castle would have the toughest legislation in the state on gun control.”
Greenstein then urged Saland to personally report to the Recreation and Parks Commission his idea of refusing the money and see what the commissioners’ reaction would be.
The next day, Saland denied that his comments during the work session blowup were political. Earlier this winter he had entertained the idea of running against Murphy in this year’s 40th state Senate District seat but decided against it because of family and career considerations.
Instead, he said he wants to use every tool at his and the town’s disposal to fight what is one of the most important issues facing the nation. Saland added that it wasn’t a shock to anybody on the board that he proposed relinquishing the money since he e-mailed his colleagues about the issue prior to the meeting.
“I don’t want anyone to think my aim is to give away money,” said Saland, a former Manhattan assistant district attorney and currently a criminal defense lawyer. “That isn’t my goal. My objective is to think out of the box and establish without equivocation responsible gun laws and supporting legislation reflecting that is of central import to me and the majority across New Castle and the state.”
Councilwoman Lisa Katz, who briefly engaged in a shouting match with Saland during the work session, said no one on the board believes the gun violence issue isn’t important. However, to make constructive change board members should reach consensus on the laws they want to see supported and put pressure on the state legislature and Congress. Furthermore, the town should explore what it can do at the local level.
“We need to sit down as a Town Board, and have a work session purely devoted, politics aside, purely devoted to what we can do as a Town Board and what legislation we want to get behind and what letters we want to write,” Katz said.
Two days after the shooting the town sent identical letters to Murphy and Assemblyman David Buchwald urging both legislators that more must be done to strengthen the state’s gun laws and address gun violence. The letter stated that the board supports measures that would force domestic abusers to surrender their firearms and the package of measures to reinforce the SAFE Act.
Councilwoman Ivy Pool said she supports local legislation but asked Town Attorney Nicholas Ward-Willis to research whether it would be redundant with existing county law.
While not committing to Saland’s idea, Pool said that all options have to be kept open.
“If there’s a way to make more clear and send a more definitive message to our representatives than we should consider it,” Pool said. “We want to consider every possible avenue that’s available to us.”
The Town Board is tentatively scheduled to resume discussion of potential local legislation at its work session Tuesday night.