HUDSON–The Hudson City School District hosted a panel discussion last week on “gun laws, school safety and mental health” organized by former Hudson Supervisor Bill Hughes (4th Ward). The panel included Hudson Schools Superintendent Maria Suttmeier, Hudson student Siddique Ahmed, Certified Safety Professional Mike Needham, county Sheriff Dave Bartlett, Hudson Police Chief Edward Moore, county Mental Health Director Michael Cole, Assemblymember Didi Barrett (D-106th) and Congressman John Faso (R-19th). The panel was moderated by Glen Geher, a professor at SUNY New Paltz’s Psychology Department.
As he started the discussion Dr. Geher said of gun violence, “This is not a political issue, this is a human issue.”
At the June 1 event, the moderator asked each panel member to start off with a short statement to the audience in the auditorium, which was about half full. Siddique, who helped organize the school’s Walkout for School Safety on March 14 after the shooting in Parkland, FL, said that there have been over 20 school shootings so far in 2018 and there has been “no action” to deal with gun violence. “More lives will be in danger if we don’t act today,” he said.
Mr. Needham talked about the profile of the shooters in recent events, saying they were young
males 18 to 40 years old, with a lack of social bonds. “We’ve isolated ourselves,” he said.
Mr. Cole talked about the programs offered through the office of Mental Health in the schools. He pointed out that five of the six county school districts now have satellite county Mental Health offices in their school buildings. He said his office provides a variety of “pro-social” programs for kids. But he said that in most cases mental health and substance abuse treatment programs are voluntary. And he said there is no single cause for gun violence. He said “risk assessment,” like looking into who might commit a mass shooting, is “an evolving science.”
Mr. Cole also stressed that a person with mental health issues is 11 times more likely to be the victim of violence rather than the perpetrator. “Talk saves lives,” he said at the end of his comments.
Sheriff Bartlett talked about putting school resources officers (SRO) back in the schools after he was elected sheriff. “They’re a friend to the kids,” he said of the officers. Later in the discussion he talked about finding funding for the SRO program. Right now the schools and the Sheriff’s Office split the cost for the SRO.
The sheriff also said he has trained thousands through the Civilian Response to Active Shooter Events (CRASE) program. He said he’s had “nothing but positive responses to that.”
Congressman Faso (R-19th) talked about the federal government “effectively outlawing” bump stocks after the shootings in Las Vegas. Bump stocks make it possible for a semi-automatic weapon to function like a fully automatic weapon. He talked about supporting a “Red Flag” law that would, after due process, allow officials to take firearms away from someone deemed to be a threat. He talked about sponsoring a bill to fund health clinics in schools and said he supported greatly enhancing funding to mental health.
Superintendent Suttmeier said that a school shooting “hits home for us.” She said, “We know [students] need an education that is free from violence” and she expressed the hope that the panel could “put our heads together” to come up with some solutions for the issue.
Assemblymember Barrett (D-106th) pointed out that gun violence is not just school shootings but also suicides. She said that though there are issues with the state’s Safe Act, she voted for it to “keep another parent from having to bury a child.” She pointed out that 30,000 Americans’ lives end do to gun violence each year, and more than half are suicides.
Chief Moore talked about making sure his officers are prepared when there is a school shooting. He said that his department will most likely be the first on the scene if something happens in Hudson. He did say he has a good relationship with the county Sheriff’s Office and the State Police.
After the statements, the panel took questions submitted in advance and from the audience. Many of the questions were directed at Congressman Faso. Mr. Faso stressed his support for the 2nd Amendment and law abiding gun owners in his district. When asked by someone writing in if Mr. Faso would not take contributions from the NRA, Mr. Faso said the question was a “red herring.”
“I look to people on both sides of this issue to work together to deal with this,” he said.
There was question about arming teachers, which Mr. Needham, Dr. Suttmeier, Sheriff Bartlett and Chief Moore all said was a bad idea. “They should not be armed,” said the sheriff, adding, “leave that to professionals.”
“That is not what they are certified to do,” said Dr. Suttmeier of teachers, “they are certified to teach.”
Sheriff Bartlett and Mr. Faso talked about the extensive background checks that New York State conducts. The sheriff said that “background checks are good…, mental health checks are good.” He and Dr. Suttmeier stressed locking up guns in the home. “We have to make sure they are secure,” she said of making sure children do not have access to guns.
Chief Moore pointed out that there were seven shootings in Hudson last summer and none of the guns the police found were registered firearms. He said the problem with a pistol is that it can be “around for 100 years.”
One person from the audience asked if there were any studies to look at other countries that have high gun ownership and less gun violence. Mr. Faso said that federal Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is not banned from studying gun violence, but is banned from advocating either way on gun control. He talked about listening to young people in this country and about the profiles of shooters in the recent school shootings. Ms. Barrett said, of the question and Mr. Faso’s answer, “We need to look at this in a much broader way…. It’s something that is happening every day.”
Thea Burgess, a local teacher, asked about looking at “common sense gun laws.” She said that she was told it could take the police five to eight minutes to get to scene of a mass shooting.
Another woman asked about the gun show loophole. Another person pointed out that the tobacco industry is heavily regulated and no one is very upset about that. Another questioned the reliability of background checks.
One of the few students who spoke was Althea Brennan, who is volunteering on the primary campaign of Democrat Gareth Rhodes, who is seeking to run against Mr. Faso in November. Althea told Rep. Faso about the time students lose doing drills and the “fear we face every day.”
The owner of Shooters, a gun shop in Valatie, said he does background checks. “We have people who get approved, we have people who get denied…. It’s about as foolproof as possible.”
Another person, who said she was on a local school board, asked Assemblymember Barrett about funding for the SRO program and why her school is waiting for school safety money. Ms. Barrett said that board member should contact her office.
Rep. Faso also addressed his Yes vote on the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act, which he said was unlikely to become a law. He was asked about it early in the meeting and again later by David Clegg, also running for the Democratic nomination in the 19th District.
Both Sheriff Bartlett and Chief Moore said the reciprocity bill would require more work on their part to know the gun concealment laws in other states if it became law.
Terry Sullivan, a newly elected board member at Taconic Hills, asked about bullying. Mr. Needham mentioned, as he had at other times in the meeting, the Dignity for All Students Act, which requires schools to address bullying complaints and resolve them. “Every school district I work with takes those issues seriously,” he said.
To contact reporter Emilia Teasdale@columbiapaper.com