Philipstown Board Asked to Enact Gun-Storage Law

Activists say it would protect children, save lives

By Liz Schevtchuk Armstrong

The Philipstown Town Board agreed Oct. 6 to consider a local law that would require gun owners to store their weapons with locks or in safes, after residents pleading for action filled Town Hall.

Alex Dubroff, a Philipstown resident and the Hudson Valley coordinator for New Yorkers Against Gun Violence, backed a similar measure in remarks in September to the Beacon City Council (Gun Storage Debate Comes to Beacon, Sept. 24). She organized a petition drive in Philipstown that gathered 435 signatures.

She told the Town Board that, according to a U.S. Department of Justice study, a third of handguns are kept loaded and unlocked and that two children are killed each week in accidental shootings. “This law is about protecting our loved ones… especially our kids [and] about our responsibility as members of a community,” she said.

Gun Storage Laws

Federal law requires manufacturers and licensed gun dealers to provide a storage or safety device with every gun sold, although the buyer does not have to use it and the law does not apply to private sales.

Eleven states have laws about locking devices, according to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, but only Massachusetts requires them on all firearms. New York City also requires guns to be secured.

New York state law requires a gun owner to keep a firearm locked if he or she lives with a felon, a convicted domestic abuser or a person who cannot legally buy a gun due to his or her mental health history.

The New York State Police require that locking devices be secured by a combination or key and that they be strong enough not to be pried open with “common household tools.”

Carolyn Llewellyn said that an average of 92 gun deaths occur daily in the U.S. and that more than 200 school shootings have occurred since 2013. “There’s not a sensible gun owner who does not want this,” Llewellyn said.

The Rev. Frank Geer  urged the Town Board to consider a gun-storage law. (Photo by L.S.  Armstrong)

The Rev. Frank Geer  urged the Town Board to consider a gun-storage law. (Photo by L.S.  Armstrong)

The Rev. Frank Geer, pastor of St. Philip’s Episcopal Church in Garrison, observed that after a tragedy people tend to proclaim, “Never again,” but that the words ring hollow when nothing happens to prevent further gun violence. He encouraged the board “to put a little emphasis behind the phrase ‘Never again.’ ”

The proponents predicted that if the Town Board drafts a law, it will face fierce opposition. “You’re going to get push-back,” Kathleen Foley of Cold Spring warned. “I ask you to be brave.”

Llewellyn said “the reason we do not have safe-storage laws” is the National Rifle Association. “I pray you guys have the guts not to bow down to the lobbyists.”

(The NRA has long opposed safe-storage laws, countering that such “feel-good” measures are an invasion of privacy, would have low compliance and may leave those who comply defenseless, among other objections. It argues that gun-safety education is a better solution.)

Following comments by about 10 proponents of the law, Supervisor Richard Shea cut off remarks. “Obviously, people are very concerned,” he said. Board Member Nancy Montgomery said: “We’ve been talking about this for four years. I apologize that government on all levels has failed you and I’m happy to take a stand and move this forward.”

Gun incidents

At the meeting, Stan Freilich of Garrison shared a report of incidents involving guns in Putnam County that he obtained with a Freedom of Information Law request from the Putnam County Sheriff. (Freilich also filed FOIL requests with the Cold Spring Police, which said it did not compile such data, and the New York State Police, which did not provide data.)

Alex Dubroff addresses the Philipstown Town Board at its Oct. 6 meeting (Photo by L.S. Armstrong)    

Alex Dubroff addresses the Philipstown Town Board at its Oct. 6 meeting (Photo by L.S. Armstrong)

The 62-page report listed 476 incidents from 2011 through early 2016, including six suicides, one attempted suicide, three deaths, two assaults, one murder, 108 firearms taken as evidence and 355 cases in which a gun was taken by police for “safe-keeping.” In one case involving an early morning domestic dispute on a road, deputies confiscated 25 weapons. In other cases they seized 10 or more — including 35 firearms taken Dec. 31 in an incident of alleged assault and menacing.

Earlier controversies

While discussing the proposed law, Town Board members recalled a 2011 incident in which a resident at a board forum disparaged the board and mentioned he was “packing,” which many took to mean he was armed. When the board drafted legislation to prohibit guns at such meetings, demonstrators gathered outside Town Hall. Threatened with lawsuits, the board shelved that effort, but in December 2012, under its employee-protection policy, it banned guns on town-owned property such as Town Hall and town parks.

11 thoughts on “Philipstown Board Asked to Enact Gun-Storage Law

  1. I was not at the town board meeting, so my comments are based entirely on the information contained in the press article. Based on that information, my conclusion is that the proposed legislation is unlikely to be effective, because it assumes that most gun owners do not already engage in safe gun storage. If for no other reason, the severe legal and financial penalties associated with accidents due to careless gun storage make this assumption questionable.

    For those unthinking gun owners who are not already aware of (or do not already take seriously) the possible dangers associated with unsecured firearms, is it realistic to think that these individuals will take seriously a virtually unenforceable law attempting to regulate unseen behavior in the privacy of their own homes?

    The proponents of this law anticipate “pushback” from gun owners, and they attribute this pushback to the influence of the National Rifle Association. This seems to imply that the NRA is somehow antagonistic to gun safety. Yet, anyone familiar with gun-safety education knows that the NRA runs the largest number of gun-safety programs in the United States. This reflexive demonizing of the NRA creates a “good guy / bad guy” dynamic that is unnecessary.

    Rather than concentrating on a law that won’t have much impact one way or another, the proponents of the legislation might consider putting effort into getting the town to sponsor gun-safety courses and seminars. Education is much more likely to have an impact in this area than legislation.

  2. Gun “accidents” seem to happen daily in this country and the children who find loaded guns left within their reach often meet with tragic results. As sad as a death or injury in this type of situation may be for the parents, family, friends and school mates of the victim; it is negligence by the gun owner that caused the tragedy. Having a local law gives the gun owner the mandatory responsibility of locking up their firearm and out of reach of children. This is something they should already be doing but it also gives the owner fair warning that they will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law if they violate this law. I think it also shows that the community of Philipstown is serious about preventing accidental deaths and injury caused by careless gun owners. Gun safety courses are always welcome and a great opportunity to reinforce strict safety guidelines and laws.

  3. First of all, it’s great to see L.S. Armstrong back in action at The Current. Her reporting is matchless.

    I don’t live in Philipstown, but I worked there for 5 years and lived in Lake Peekskill for 29 years. Guns in Putnam County are plentiful and their owners are often outspoken. While raising our two kids there, we routinely asked potential play dates about guns in the house.

    I remember well the brouhaha that ensued at the county level when LoHud attempted to get the names of registered gun owners from the Odell administration. I also remember well the 2011 demonstration outside Town Hall when Philipstown first attempted to ban guns at board meetings. I was stunned that so many public officials thought it was okay for people to attend a government meeting carrying firearms. The bulk of the protesters were Republicans, but even the NRC at its most recent national convention in Philadelphia saw the wisdom in keeping firearms out of the convention center.

    As for the argument that such a law is “unenforceable,” I believe that it’s the threat of being held accountable if something does go wrong that can give a law like this some “teeth.”

    Not one of the rights that Americans hold so dear is unlimited — not speech, not assembly, and not firearms. With all of the gun deaths we’ve witnessed since Sandy Hook, why can’t we, as a nation, agree to value life over everything else and take common sense steps to protect it?

  4. The problem with the proposed legislation is that it attempts to achieve firearms safety by scaring people into being careful. It is essentially a negative approach (based on legal penalties) and a reactive approach (invoked normally after a gun incident has occurred). Social science research suggests that a positive, proactive strategy, such as gun-safety education, is much more likely to produce behavior change.

    Can we do both? Certainly. But after expending time on passing reactive laws, a community usually spends no additional effort on sponsoring and facilitating proactive education. Although we acknowledge the usefulness of education for addressing most other ills of society, when it comes to guns, legislation unfortunately appears to be the relatively easy, “common-sense” solution of choice.

  5. Similar to driver licenses, proactively and not voluntary, no one should be permitted to own a gun without undergoing a mandatory gun-safety course given by a certified instructor and only upon submission of such documentation to a seller should the prospective buyer be permitted to purchase a weapon.

  6. Here’s a few thoughts that may help as people consider measures to promote safety in reference to handheld weapons of all kinds (this issue is not limited to firearms but includes knives, swords, long bows and crossbows, and yes, even batons, walking sticks, crowbars, etc., any substantial thing potentially held by a raised hand, anything which may potentially be used as a weapon).

    Handheld weapons should not be understood as having attributes of glamour, or mystery, or magical power — though often in much of classic literature and in modern culture and through films and advertising and fantasy, these characteristics are promoted or implied. A misunderstanding as to the essential characteristics, uses, and purposes of a weapon invite the misuse of the weapon.

    Handheld weapons should not be understood as being toys — though frequently they are. If a toy is mistaken for a weapon, if a facsimile of a weapon is mistaken for the real thing, there can be unexpected or unintended consequences; this is equally so if a weapon is mistaken or understood as a toy or as a facsimile.

    Any weapon should be understood best for its inherent purpose — it’s a tool to be used in an act of violence, or in threat of a violent attack. Tools are invented by man for specific purposes, for specific jobs — and anyone using the wrong tool or using a tool incorrectly or in an unsafe manner should be considered either incapable, or untrained and/or irresponsible in its use.

    Specifically, all firearms should be understood as being at all times loaded, any safety device is to be always assumed as being off or ineffective, and at anytime anyone points or aims a weapon at another person or thing the weapon’s user as well as all present should be prepared to accept the consequences of a violent attack. If the consequences are not prepared for the aimer or the pointer is to be considered irresponsible — as are potentially all those present if they may, but fail to do so, prevent or even delay an irresponsible act.

    The use or the threat of the use of violence invites a host of likely responses not the least of which can be counter-threats and counterattacks. Consequently, escalations may occur. A failure to understand the potential for misunderstandings is as often a cause of tragedy as an actual or intentional violent attack.

    Lastly, words and images may also be seen as weapons potentially, as all invite responses. Prudence, restraint and discipline should be the order of the day for responsible persons.

    Safety is a good and wise policy.

    How to best legislate safety and the safe use, including storage, of weapons without creating new problems or exacerbating existing ones, for example without restricting individual rights and freedoms, will be the central question for governments as well as for those who monitor and petition them.

  7. An individual wishing to buy or own a handgun in New York State must first be interviewed and fingerprinted by the County Sheriff, provide several character references, undergo a background check, and attend a gun-safety course taught by an approved, certified instructor, before being considered for a pistol permit.

    Thus, obtaining a pistol permit actually is a much more rigorous process than obtaining a driver’s license. Those willing to go through this permitting process typically are responsible individuals and highly law-abiding. In fact, some research (“Concealed Carry Permit Holders Across the United States,” by Lott, 2016) even suggests that concealed-carry permit holders are the most law-abiding people in the country, having a crime-conviction rate smaller than even police officers.

    • My concern isn’t regarding the permit holders, who as you say are likely responsible and thoughtful. That is why the proposal doesn’t require the weapon to be secured when in possession by the owner.

      I support safe storage because I’m worried about about accidents. I’m worried about individuals, like my children or my neighbors’ children, encountering weapons when a responsible, trained permit holder is NOT around. I’m worried about making suicide by gunshot all too easy.

      The proposal sets a very reasonable standard: let’s assume permit holders ARE responsible but that everyone else is NOT responsible. Shouldn’t these devices be secured when left behind?

  8. Mr. Campbell correctly uses the word “typically” to describe “responsible” gun owners. They are typical until a domestic argument ensues and they become typically violent. Accessibility to guns in the household have been shown to be the primary cause of injury or death of women in domestic violence incidents. And most disturbing has been the number of deaths of young children who come upon guns in the home that are unsecured.

  9. Treating firearms carelessly or leaving a gun unsecured is surely a recipe for disaster, and finding a procedure that could prevent such disasters would be wonderful. But a safe-storage law is not likely to transform a careless person into a careful person, prevent a violent or suicidal firearms owner from retrieving a secured weapon from the safe, or even prevent a responsible person from suffering a lapse of vigilance.

    So, it seems to me the proposed legislation falls into the “If it saves even one life, isn’t it worth it?” category. Well, no, it’s not worth it, if another, even more effective gun safety strategy was overlooked, because we thought legislation would solve the problem. As I suggested in an earlier comment, I believe ongoing, community-sponsored gun safety courses and seminars are likely to have a greater impact and save more lives than a law that is enforceable only after a death or an accident occurs.