CHATHAM–By a 3-to-2 vote the Town Board adopted a resolution last week declaring the board’s decision to “oppose the NY Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act on the grounds that it is unconstitutional.” The resolution on the state’s new gun control law, called the SAFE Act, also requests that the law be sent back to the legislature “for reexamination and full review.”
Adoption of the resolution adds Chatham to the list of municipalities around the state calling for repeal or review of the SAFE Act, which the state legislature approved under the fast-track provision known as a “message of necessity” last January following the murders in Newtown, CT. The county Board of Supervisors and several local Town Boards have also adopted resolutions opposing the law.
The crowd at Chatham Town Hall last Thursday, May 16, spilled into the lobby, with 60 or more people in attendance. Last month a written request for a resolution opposing the SAFE Act drew more opponents of the measure than supporters and no one on the board at that time introduced a motion on the subject. At this month’s meeting the two sides seemed evenly split, with 11 of the 21 speakers calling for repeal of the law and the 10 people urging the board not to get involved in the issue.
Town Supervisor Jesse DeGroodt said the town received 19 pieces of correspondence on the SAFE Act,
The first member of the public to speak was James Temple, who, like others who followed, said he believed the new law violated his rights under the Second Amendment. He called for repeal of the SAFE Act and urged the board to “help defend our Constitution.” Mr. Temple also quoted from a letter he received from Congressman Chris Gibson (R-19th) commending him for his work on this issue.
He was followed by Bill Simons, who said of the SAFE Act, “The law prohibits me from defending my family.”
On the other side, Landra Haber warned the board it would set a “dangerous precedent” for the board to become involved in an issue not relevant to the board’s duty to govern the town. “The best course is doing nothing,” she said.
The debate seesawed between two-minute-long statements by the two sides. Saying, “My right to protect myself comes from God,” Chatham resident John Wallace said the law had been pressed on the legislature by “downstate people” and he told the board it should stand “for the constitutional rights of the people of Chatham.” Many of the speakers in favor of repealing the law faulted the manner in which it was adopted by the state Senate and Assembly, with little time for lawmakers to read the bill and debate it.
Throughout the extended public comment period opponents of a local resolution called out for speakers to say where they lived. Several of advocates of repeal said they live in Columbia County but not in Chatham. “People who live in Columbia County should care about Chatham,” said Claverack resident Ed Fertik.
That position prompted Ernie Reis, who opposed a resolution, to address those from other towns, saying, “I welcome you to help pay our taxes.”
When all who asked to speak had finished, the board took up the issue, though a resolution had not been introduced. “I think the [state] law needs tweaking,” said Democrat Jean Rohde, adding, “I think this is the wrong forum.”
Supervisor Jesse DeGroodt, an independent, said he had voted in favor of the county Board of Supervisors’ resolution and would support a similar measure in Chatham.
Democrat Bob Balcom said the board was alarmed by the resolution, which he said opened the board to being “manipulated.” He said the state was the proper forum for a SAFE Act, while the Town Board should focus on the budget, roads, bridges and the economy. He also said the board has no idea where the people of Chatham stand on the issue of repealing the SAFE Act.
Maria Lull, a Republican, said that contrary to what opponents of a repeal resolution said, she did not believe the issue would divide the town. Saying she had had a gun license since 1972 and a pistol permit since 2008, she said, “I feel it is my responsibility to express the views of my constituents.”
Republican Councilman Henry Swartz Jr. did not make a statement at the meeting but did converse with Supervisor DeGroodt on what a resolution expressing the town’s opposition to the SAFE Act should include. He said that it should say that the state law was “unconstitutional in the way it was done.”
The board then voted on the measure with Supervisor DeGroodt, Ms. Lull and Mr. Swartz voting Aye and Ms. Rohde and Mr. Balcom Nay.
The language of the resolution released this week by Town Clerk Beth Anne Rippel was slightly different from the verbal version of the measure discussed at the meeting, although it did not stray from the general sentiments expressed at the meeting by those who support repealing the bill.
Mr. DeGroodt said he and Mr. Swartz had worked on the exact language after the meeting and that the document would be sent to the governor and to Assemblyman Steve McLaughlin (R-107th) and state Senator Kathy Marchione (R-43rd) among others.