Letter: To Possess a Gun

I would like to take this opportunity to clarify a few legal points regarding the safe-storage ordinance submitted to the Philipstown Town Board (Gun Opponents Bring Case to Philipstown Town Board, Nov. 4).

It is important to understand that the proposed ordinance is not the same as the Washington, D.C., safe-storage ordinance that was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court. Under the D.C. ordinance, a firearm in the home was required to be locked or unloaded and disabled at all times. Under the proposed Philipstown ordinance, a firearm only needs to be safely stored when not within a person’s “possession or control.”

Possession means on your person. But what does “within a person’s control” mean? This is the question we need to focus on to come to a reasoned decision about the merits of this proposed ordinance.

Here are some scenarios to consider under the ordinance:

  • Suppose you have a child in the house and you go out to mow the lawn, can you leave your gun on a bookshelf? No.
  • Suppose you sit down to eat dinner with your family, can you keep your gun holstered? Yes.
  • Can you go to sleep with a loaded gun on your nightstand? Yes. But if you have children in the house, you’ll need to lock your bedroom door.

As I think of scenarios, I find myself coming up with more scenarios of what you are permitted to do under the ordinance than scenarios of what you are not permitted to do. In fact, this ordinance is so minimal that it simply codifies the basic common sense that all responsible gun owners naturally use as a bare minimum.

For this reason, I am not clear why the ordinance might be objectionable to any gun owner. Not only is this ordinance minimal, it is not enforceable.  Law enforcement has absolutely no right to enter private property without consent unless there is probable cause to do so. There have been claims that this ordinance supersedes this constitutional right. Rest assured it absolutely does not. That is why it is not enforceable.

So why would this ordinance be of any use? Because in the event a gun owner does not use the common sense that God gave him and that the ordinance requires of him, and someone is harmed as a result, the victim(s) (or family) would be able to sue the gun owner in civil court with a clear cause of action. This alone creates a strong deterrent to dangerous, irresponsible behavior. There is nothing unreasonable about that.

As I watch the debate heat up, I am worried that once again our community will resort to generalized emotion fueled by national special-interest groups, rather than by accurate information and true local concerns. We have an opportunity here to change our ways.

Diana Hird, Cold Spring

4 thoughts on “Letter: To Possess a Gun

  1. I have lived in this area for 64 years. That being said, I do not remember any instance where this type of ordinance would of had an effect on anything. Perhaps more effort should be spent on locking up pain medication. While I do not know any young people who have died or been injured due to the improper storage of guns, I knew two young people who are no longer with us due to drugs. I understand the fear some folks have about firearms and their storage. While I find most gun owners to be very responsible people, I can’t say the same about a lot of folks with prescription bottles laying around. I’m not saying a gun ordinance is a waste of time, just that the time might be better spent. I miss those two young men.

  2. “In fact, this ordinance is so minimal that it simply codifies the basic common sense that all responsible gun owners naturally use as a bare minimum.”

    That statement alone sums up why pursuit of this law is a waste of Philipstown taxpayer money. It is going to cost thousands of dollars in attorney fees in preparation for a public hearing alone, not to mention the legal challenges if it is passed. If all we are doing is “codifying” common sense, and pushing a law that is unenforceable in any circumstance barring the most heinous of events — why are we wasting time and resources that could be better used elsewhere? There are many laws already on the books that a citizen could use to sue in civil court.

    It has been rather obvious from the beginning, and becoming more so, that this entire charade is being pushed by anti-gun lobbyists with connections (and lots of lobbyist funding) far reaching outside of Philipstown.

  3. I agree 100 percent that safe storage of medication is a pressing matter. I am surprised we don’t talk about an ordinance covering this to make people accountable. We absolutely should.

    I’m not sure how the gun ordinance is going to cost taxpayer money or use up resources. As a separate matter, we codify common sense all the time — just to keep those without common sense accountable. For example: no yelling fire in a movie theater! I can’t believe we actually have to tell people that.

    Finally, not all safe-storage laws are the same. This one is extremely light on requirements. I totally get objecting to the Washington, D.C., law that was found unconstitutional. But I don’t get objecting to this one.

  4. The proposed gun ordinance would have no effect on a family’s right to sue a gun owner who has left their hand gun unattended. You can already sue. I will suggest another tragic scenario to your list: A young person has utilized a gun that was in his or her home to either accidentally or intentionally end his or her life. Do you charge the child’s parents and further the tragedy? This proposed law is a “feel-good” law that should have never made it past the town board’s review. I expect more from our elected officials.