THE CHATHAM TOWN BOARD last week added a late agenda item on a whether to join some other municipalities in calling for the state legislature to repeal the SAFE Act, the new law that expands gun buyer background checks, limits the rounds in ammunition clips and bans certain assault-style firearms.
The county Board of Supervisors voted for repeal as did the Claverack Town Board in a revised version. The measure has also come before other boards, and gun rights activists are working hard to build grassroots support for getting rid of the law. Regardless of how you feel about regulating firearms, and despite criticism that the gun industry and its lobbyists, including the NRA, are backing the effort, this is democracy at work. Our political system rests on the notion that citizens may try to change the law by peaceful means. The efforts of gun rights advocates affirm that principle.
In Chatham, when town Supervisor Jesse DeGroodt asked for public comment at the outset of the meeting, two supporters of the Safe Act spoke. Then a woman, shaking her head in exasperation at what had just been cited as benefits of the law, asked, “Is anybody here pleased that the state is spending $38 million” to implement the Safe Act?
There was a second or two of silence followed by hands rising around the room. “Yes,” said people in the audience, they were pleased by the law and the expenditures.
No one on the board offered a resolution and the meeting moved on to other agenda items.
Supporters of SAFE Act repeal may yet mount a more concerted effort to press Chatham and other boards to vote for repeal. But they may want to take note of the reaction of the audience last week. The response in Chatham tracks what voters say in surveys. The majority wants tighter regulations for firearms. This too is democracy in action.
Peter Kane Dufault
IT’S NOT SOLDIERS or, as Shakespeare has it, lawyers, who worry tyrants most. It’s poets. Peter Kane Dufault, who died this week a few days shy of his 90th birthday, understood that.
He was an accomplished poet, a musician, teacher, activist and more. His obituary appears in this edition. I met him through his letters to the editor and the occasional conversations we had about them. One of the last times I saw him, a couple of years ago, he dropped off a letter on his way to play soccer. He had no illusions about his contribution to his team’s chances of winning, but he planned to keep at it as long as he could stand in the goal and block a shot now and then. He said it beat sitting on the sidelines.
When I’d first met him a decade earlier, he mentioned that he’d been editor of the Daily Mail newspaper in Catskill. He said it in passing, not a big deal, his way of introducing himself and a letter he was submitting for publication. He expressed a professional interest in the standards of the newspaper I edited at the time, asking amiably whether we had a policy on letters that made some people think while outraging others.
Back in September 2010 in what may have been his last letter to this newspaper, Mr. Dufault wrote about his experience with the then new technology of optical scan voting machines. He said the scanners “would be much admired in Afghanistan.” It was not a compliment. His letter recounted a few lines of dialog between him and election officials, and concluded with a warning that the new machines prevented voters from knowing whether their votes had been counted. He concluded that the new machines meant there was “no difference between scan and scam.”
It turned out that the county agreed and hand-counted every ballot. But for all the lengthy public debate over electronic voting, no one expressed the problem with the wit, elegance and precision of Peter Kane Dufault.
I knew him slightly in his role as public policy critic. From our brief encounters what I remember most vividly is a busy man who never seemed rushed. He wrote letters using a mechanical typewriter on “typing paper,” with its elevated, uneven surface. He paused to consider ideas. He spoke fearlessly to the point. He lived well into this era of gadgets that parse our lives into nanosecond increments, fully engaged and delighted whenever he could remind us of the things in life that matter.