In addition to establishing the Rockland County Firearms Cable Lock Safety Program, the Rockland County Legislature voted in favor of two additional gun-related resolutions at Tuesday’s meeting.
The first resolution urged the state legislature to pass bills amending penal law to keep gun applicant information confidential. The second resolution condemned The Journal News for publishing an online interactive map of those with gun licenses in the county.
Neither resolution passed unanimously, with the first resolution passing 11-2 and the second passing 9-4. Four legislators — Legislators Aney Paul, John Murphy, Frank Sparaco and Patrick Moroney — were absent from the meeting.
The legislators spoke about the possible danger in publishing information on local residents who own guns, leading to the need to change the penal law. One of the biggest issues brought up by multiple legislators is that it puts law enforcement workers in danger.
“I’ve had hundreds of arrests in my career and have supervised thousands of criminal investigations,” said Legislator Ed Day, a former law enforcement officer. “I can assure you that I’ve left some very bad guys very unhappy during the course of my career, and I’m sure many others have too.”
Day also brought up victims of domestic violence who might have been living in hiding from their abusers and got licenses for a gun as added protection. He also brought up a problem Rockland County Sheriff Lou Falco spoke about in the past, which is inmates at the county jail taunting correction officers and telling them they know where the officers live.
“There are bad people out there and when they’re really bad they end up in our jails,” said Legislator Ilan Schoenberger. “Those bad people are using the information published in this map to threaten, harass and intimidate our corrections officers.”
Schoenberger said the inmates have been giving officers’ names to people on the outside and telling them to look up the information and relay it back.
The two legislators to vote against the first resolution were Legislators Nancy Low-Hogan and Joseph Meyers.
“I don’t agree with the fact, as it says in the resolution, that producing this kind of information is in fact a roadmap when we know it really isn’t a roadmap because there are other kinds of guns, shotguns as was mentioned earlier, that are not public information,” Low-Hogan said.
She said she did, however, agree with is a need to protect those who could be in danger from having their public information out there, such as domestic abuse victims.
Meyers agreed with that sentiment, but also said he thinks it’s always better for the country when things are more transparent, which he added lives up to the ideals the country was founded on.
“I don’t like the idea of reacting too precipitously to something like this because people just woke up and realized that some information was public,” he said. “It never bothered them before, but now it does.”
He said there is all types of personal information out there about people, especially those who have applied for permits or licenses, and he felt the first resolution made for an “unusual exception.”
As for condemning the gun map, Meyers, Low-Hogan, Chairwoman of the Legislature Harriet Cornell and Legislator Michael Grant voted against it. Cornell said that while she might not be in favor of the map, she felt the wording was too strong. She said she sent The Journal News a note telling them that even if they take down the map, the damage is done at this point.
Instead, she offered them something they can do to have a positive impact on the community. She said the paper can spearhead a capital campaign to fund proposals for addressing gun violence and school safety. Her suggestions came from a letter sent out by the Lower Hudson Council of School Superintendents, a group made up of 78 school districts.
“They have thoughtful and very pragmatic recommendations, which included recommendations for funding, for necessary mental health and social services and for resource officers that can make our schools safer,” Cornell said. “Many of the schools have had school resource officers. They haven’t been able to continue them because of fiscal constraints.”
Cornell added she got a letter back from the paper’s publisher telling her the suggestions are worthwhile and they will pursue them, but Cornell doesn’t know what it will lead to, if anything.
Grant said he voted against the condemnation because he thinks all the talk of the issue is taking away from discussions on more important issues, such as gun safety and mental health. He also didn’t feel it was the legislature’s place to condemn a newspaper.
As for the legislators who did vote for the condemnation, there were a variety of reasons. Legislator Jay Hood didn’t really see the reason behind publishing the map.
“I personally think that they saw something that could be relatively juicy in the public, and got national attention for it. So they kind of got what they wanted, I think, out of it,” he said. “There was a reward for publishing this, and they haven’t taken it down even though they’ve heard all the arguments against it, even though they know that from what we hear 25 percent of the information is incorrect. They haven’t taken any action to correct what, I think, is a wrong move.”
Legislator Chris Carey had a similar feeling, noting that individuals and corporations make mistakes all the time, but you really see someone’s true character in how he or she responds to a mistake. He doesn’t think The Journal News has responded correctly to the map.
Legislator Toney Earl said he felt the map didn’t take in consideration the people on it. Legislator Aron Wieder said that in addition to putting those on the map in danger, it also can point out to criminals which houses don’t have guns, making them perhaps more desirable for break-ins. In response, Wieder filled out a pistol license and brought it with him to Tuesday’s meeting. He said he’d do anything to ensure his family’s protection.
Wieder also said the shooting in Newtown, CT, shouldn’t be thought of as just a tragedy, but should inspire actual change in the country.
“Dec. 14, 2012, should not be just another major event etched into our nation’s calendar,” he said. “No. This event ought to be the beginning of some serious discussions, introspection and self examination. When innocent babies, little babies, are no longer safe in their comfortable classroom, the nation ought to come to a grinding halt. I have no doubt that the Journal News and its staff genuinely wanted to contribute positively to the national conversation after this horrific tragedy. However, they failed miserably.”