NY mayors want to draw attention to gun violence crisis. Here’s their plan.

Gun Rights

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After a bloody May that saw mass killings in a Buffalo supermarket, a Texas elementary school and elsewhere across the country, New Yorkers are almost certainly, painfully aware of gun violence.

Even so, eight New York mayors and a county executive on Tuesday doubled down by declaring June to be Gun Violence Awareness Month in the state. They called for common-sense federal gun laws, background checks, closing the illegal-gun pipeline and unmarked “ghost guns.”

They want a weekend of anti-gun-violence church sermons, and for buildings and bridges and Niagara Falls to be lit up in orange to raise awareness.

Orange, they said, is the color of gun-violence awareness — but an expected Supreme Court ruling could soon have them seeing red.

The officials, all Democrats — host Byron Brown of a grieving Buffalo, Eric Adams of New York City, Shawyn Patterson-Howard of Mount Vernon, Malik Evans of Rochester, Kathy Sheehan of Albany, Wilfred Rosas of Dunkirk, Robert Restaino of Niagara Falls, and Yonkers Mayor Mike Spano, a last-minute addition — gathered on a Zoom call days after the 10th and final Buffalo burial and as funeral plans were evolving in Uvalde, Texas, where 19 schoolchildren and two teachers were killed last week.

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Buffalo Mayor Brown convened the meeting, calling gun violence “a national crisis.”  He said that in addition to the 10 people shot dead in a racist attack at the Tops Friendly Markets store on Buffalo’s East Side, and the 21 killed in Uvalde, there were dozens of others lost to gun violence: 65 dead in less than three weeks.

“We gather here today to send a strong message. We will not give in to the terror of gun violence. We will never stop working to protect New Yorkers,” he said. “No matter the motivation of the person behind the weapon, this is the time we are standing up and saying no more.”

The mayors commiserated remotely over the fact that the nature of their jobs does not permit them to be remote in the face of more gun deaths: They are on the front lines of the war on guns, as they arrive at the scene of the crime to learn of the latest carnage and to console the inconsolable.

Also on the call was Westchester County Executive George Latimer, a Democrat, whose county has four of the state’s largest cities: Yonkers, Mount Vernon, New Rochelle and White Plains.

‘No bullet pierced my body’

The elected officials were joined on their Zoom call by Linda Beigel Schulman, whose son, Scott Beigel, was killed in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, in 2018.

She blasted the “epidemic of gun violence” and those who “help and encourage” active shooters, a group she said included the NRA, the gun industry, and “governors, lieutenant governors, state attorney generals, state legislatures and the 50 United States senators as they continue failing to enact reasonable gun safety laws.”

Gun violence, Beigel Schulman said, has a profound effect on the entire community, not only on those who are killed.

“We survived physically, but we are still victims,” she said. “Look at me. No bullet pierced my body. I have no physical scars. I was not rushed into surgery or had to endure months of painful rehabilitation. However, the emotional and psychological scars that I have are just as real, just as painful, and will continue to last for the rest of my life.”

Beigel Schulman called on the elected officials to be a force for change.

“I am asking you turn your grief, your pain, and your anger into activism. We must end gun violence through both education and legislation,” she said.

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A Supreme Court ruling expected

Anxiety loomed over Tuesday morning’s Zoom call as the nation’s highest court could soon strike down elements of New York’s strong concealed-carry handgun restrictions and change the nature of gun ownership across the Empire State. 

The case, New York State Rifle & Pistol Association Inc. v. Bruen, challenges New York’s 108-year-old handgun law. The law requires those who want to carry a concealed handgun to show “proper cause,” a special need to defend themselves. 

In oral arguments last November, the court’s conservative majority appeared hostile to the law, with some justices questioning why handgun permits were more easily obtained in rural areas than in crime-heavy congested cities such as New York City.

New York City Mayor Eric Adams spoke about the case Tuesday, saying the court was on the verge of a decision “to allow people to openly carry guns in those cities where we have fought so long to be sure to have strong gun laws.”

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Adams said the mayors face a common, all-too-familiar foe. 

“The shooting that took place in Buffalo is no different than the kind of shootings that take place on Buffalo Avenue in Brooklyn,” Adams said. “All across the country, we are seeing mayors wrestle with how to address this over-proliferation of guns in our cities. It is time for us to have a united fight against the over-proliferation of guns.”

‘We can’t do this alone’

Rochester Mayor Malik Evans said the gun problem was exhausting, but that despair was not an option.

“The problems are right at the doorstep of City Hall and we need help. We can’t do this alone by ourselves,” he said. “I hope that 50 years from now, people will look back and say, ‘This is the moment, this is the time when they finally did something in the richest, most powerful nation in the world to try to end the scourge of gun violence in our communities.'”

Dunkirk Mayor Wilfred Rosas echoed Evans, saying the problem was too big for mayors to handle, but that the meeting, and the awareness month, was a start.

Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan said a drive-by shooting in her city on Monday led to the arrest of a 16-year-old whose gun magazine could hold 15 bullets. 

“When people come and ask me about solutions, I say ‘Don’t talk to me about solutions until you’re willing to talk about common sense measures to keep illegal guns off our streets,” Sheehan said. “That has to be part of that conversation.”

Latimer, the Westchester County executive, agreed, decrying the flow of illegal weapons.

“My county is a short drive away from Virginia, a short drive away from Pennsylvania,” he said. “People can get a supermarket’s worth of guns and put it in the back of their trunk and sell them on the streets of any of our municipalities in the space of a few hours. But we will use that law enforcement effort that we have to work cooperatively and to urge our legislators at the federal level to stand behind these issues.”

Mount Vernon Mayor Shawyn Patterson-Howard said her community was among those on the list of possible targets for the Buffalo shooter.

“We are communities where people live, work, play and worship, and we deserve to feel safe,” she said. “As our communities suffer, it’s really twisted that the gun makers continue to prosper financially and they prosper financially because they are protected by senators in the United States Senate — who benefit from political and financial backing from the NRA, from the gun lobby, from the gun manufacturers — who refuse to pass common sense gun laws. “

Not on the call was New Rochelle Mayor Noam Bramson, a Democrat, who offered his support, nonetheless.

“I strongly support comprehensive efforts to reduce gun violence, restrict access to assault weapons, tighten background checks, and prevent guns from falling into the wrong hands.” Bramson said in a statement. “We stand squarely with municipal partners throughout the region and state in advocating for these essential, common-sense safety measures during Gun Violence Awareness Month and throughout the year.” 

Religious leaders across the state are being asked to preach about preventing gun violence June 10-12, which the campaign is calling the Weekend of Faith. There will be other events throughout the month, organizers said.

Niagara Falls Mayor Robert Restaino said his city will light its famous falls on the weekend of June 3-5, but that the gun problem needs a national solution.

“Even though we have strict laws here in New York state, when we take a look back at what happened in this tragic massacre in Buffalo, there’s gaps,” Restaino said. “There are things that fell through the cracks, things that shouldn’t have happened that resulted in this tragedy. So we need to also check ourselves to make sure that we in New York state are doing everything we can to protect our residents and and our citizens.”

Yonkers Mayor Mike Spano said the nation’s response to the 9/11 attacks tells him something about the effort to control guns: that it can happen.

“(After 9/11), this country put in place an entire new department and hired 60,000 TSA officers,” Spano said. “When this country decides it wants to do something, it happens. And it can happen.”

Reach Peter D. Kramer, a 34-year staffer, at pkramer@gannett.com or on Twitter at @PeterKramer. Read his latest stories. Local reporting like Pete’s only works if subscribers support it, which you can do at www.lohud.com/subscribe.

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