Philipstown Enacts Safe-Storage Gun Law (Updated)

Boos and applause greet action board finds necessary to protect children

By Liz Schevtchuk Armstrong

The Philipstown Town Board on Thursday (April 5) adopted a law requiring a firearm to be locked up when the owner leaves home without it and children are present or likely to be present.

Ending 18 months of intermittent debate, the 5-0 vote occurred at Town Hall during the monthly meeting of the board, which declined to hear public comment before acting. Some audience members gave the board a standing ovation. Others booed.

The law states that “no owner or custodian of a firearm shall leave” a handgun, rifle or shotgun “out of his or her possession or control in a residence” while knowing, or having reason to know, that anyone under age 18 is at home, unless the owner is also present or gives the gun “to a lawful custodian,” stores it in a locked container or disables it with a trigger lock. (Click here to read entire text of law.)

The board continued to fine-tune the proposal as late as Monday (April 2), changing wording that said a violator “shall” be subject to a fine of up to $1,000 and/or a year in the Putnam County Jail to “may” be subjected to those penalties.

A public hearing on Feb. 21 nearly filled the Haldane school auditorium as proponents and opponents made impassioned arguments. After that outpouring of testimony, the board scrapped its plan for an immediate vote.

The Philipstown law requires gun owners to secure their weapons in safes or with a trigger lock whenever they leave home without the weapon and haven’t entrusted it to another adult.

A draft introduced in December but discarded before the Feb. 21 hearing would have compelled gun owners to lock up or disable a weapon whenever it was not in the owner’s immediate possession, even if he or she were in the house.

In the Heller case in 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that requiring that a gun at home always be disabled or locked up is unconstitutional because it makes it impossible for the owner to readily use the gun in self-defense.

Town Board members described the law as a logical approach that does not contravene a right to self-defense.

“We’re on firm legal ground with this. There have been stricter laws passed all around the state,” Supervisor Richard Shea said.

Councilor John Van Tassel described a “hysteria on both sides of this matter, nationwide” but proposed that “somewhere in the middle there’s common sense. This law is common sense. Whether it’s going to affect anybody, help anybody, has to be determined. But if nothing else, it’s been educational for everybody” in town to focus on the topic. He added that gun-owners, whether for or against the law, “went home and said, ‘Where is my gun? Is it secure?’ ”

Originally “I was not in favor of this,” Councilor Robert Flaherty remarked, but after the public hearing and numerous conversations with gun-owners and non-owners, he concluded that “everyone is in favor. This is straightforward and easy to understand. It makes sense.” However, he cautioned, if in the future the board attempts “to improve it or strengthen it, I will not support it.”

Audience members await the Philipstown Town Board’s vote April 5 on a law regulating the storage of guns. Many wore NRA stickers. (Photo by L.S. Armstrong)

But Councilor Nancy Montgomery said she “would like to see a stronger law.” She suggested that in time “we’ll come to a point, maybe not unanimously, where we all understand that if your gun is not on you, it should be locked up. And I intend to pursue that.” She recalled the many feelings expressed as the town considered the law. Ultimately, she said, she determined that “it’s not really about what we feel. It’s about guns. It’s about injury. It’s about death.”

Board members observed that they had received hundreds of messages, from as far away as Nebraska. Montgomery said one arriving that day from an area sportsmen’s rifle association complained “that ‘it’s a burden’ to require a gun-owner to purchase a lock. Therefore we have gun-owners who are not locking their guns.” So she bought gun locks and placed them in a basket at the board’s dais. “These are free,” she announced. “We’ll have them here in Town Hall. When they run out, we’ll have more.”

Most audience members left after the vote. During the later public comment period, no critics spoke. But Cali Gorevic, a resident, thanked the board “for taking steps toward gun control” and Claudio Marzollo, another resident, commended it “for standing strong.”

Before the meeting, the law’s opponents and proponents alike tried to galvanize support.

In a March 31 email, Christopher Turan, secretary of the Putnam County Firearms Association, called the final draft “a watered-down version and not as bad as what they originally planned” because “many of the Second Amendment infringements have been removed.”

Nonetheless, he added, “the law still has some very bad aspects,” including its classification of a violation as a criminal misdemeanor, with “excessive” penalties. He also faulted its definition of a locked container for not specifically including furniture designed to conceal firearms.

Philipstown Town Board Member Nancy Montgomery brought a basketful of gun locks to the meeting. (Photo by L.S. Armstrong)

Turan suggested members “bombard” the Town Board before the vote. “Write letters, send emails, and make phone calls,” he advised. “Write multiple times if you can” and “slide letters underneath the door of the Town Hall.”

Similarly, he proposed they “make a strong showing and pack the room” before the vote. “If we can show we are still energized and determined to not let this law pass, they will likely withdraw it out of fear of damaging their party’s chances at elections this year.”

All five Town Board members are Democrats. The Putnam County Firearm Owners Association belongs to the New York State Rifle and Pistol Association, an affiliate of the National Rifle Association.

At the same time, Alexandra Dubroff, an organizer of the grassroots Team Philipstown for Safety, which backs the ordinance, on March 20 urged that the Town Board return to its earlier, tougher language. In an email to supporters, she wrote that the revised draft “is not strong enough to protect our children adequately” because “it would only require that a gun be locked up if the gun owner is not home.”

She encouraged residents to ask the board to stipulate that “when there is a child in the home, the gun must be locked up if the owner is home and doesn’t have it under their control.”

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11 Responses to "Philipstown Enacts Safe-Storage Gun Law (Updated)"

  1. Shelley A Gilbert
    Shelley A Gilbert   April 6, 2018 at 11:39 am

    It’s the very least we can do!

  2. Leonard Lindros   April 6, 2018 at 3:18 pm

    I’m afraid that too many people in this great country of ours have a problem distinguishing between IQ and common sense. Once upon a time, our county of Putnam had a good grasp between the two. It now seems that the “left coast” virus has infected this once-great county. I’ve owned weapons since I was 9 years old (a BB rifle) and then at 11 years old, a single-shot, .22 rifle and later on a number of different rifles and shotguns. I’m not a hunter and none of my weapons have ever left the confines of my property. Now and then when my grandchildren are visiting, we do a little target practice in the back yard. I tell the kids that they must respect a weapon and never point at anyone or anything that you do not plan on killing. Life is precious! It takes the state police or county police 10 minutes to 15 minutes to get to my place in Garrison. That’s primarily why the weapons are at my grasp and that is the way it is.

  3. Tom Nastasi   April 6, 2018 at 3:38 pm

    This bogus law changes nothing. A flyer to Philipstown residents would have done more good. My weapons are where I choose to keep them. Wasted time and paper. To some it’s a feel-good piece of local law. Just like the state’s law that you can only have seven rounds per clip.

  4. Greg Miller   April 6, 2018 at 5:42 pm

    It is astonishing how many people mock and resist even the most common-sense laws.

    If you already keep your guns secure, this law doesn’t require you to change anything. If you never drive drunk, you don’t have to worry about being arrested for DWI. But some people do drive drunk, and some people don’t keep their guns secure and sometimes tragedy occurs — the indisputable proof is in the headlines and the graveyards. So we have laws. No law is perfect. Laws don’t stop crime. Laws reduce crime. If laws stopped crime, we wouldn’t need a judicial system, or lawyers.

    This new law will be followed by many, some reluctantly, but eventually it will be generally accepted, and it will reduce the likelihood of a tragedy, the same way seatbelt laws reduce the likelihood of tragedy. Eventually, we Americans will have a lot more common-sense laws regarding firearms because more people will senselessly die and we will make changes to stop the madness because enough is enough. And we will look back at this time and shake our heads in wonder at the fear-mongering, the greed, and the cowardly callousness of humanity, which is kind of the way the rest of humanity is looking at us right now.

    The first words of the Second Amendment are “a well-regulated.” Argue all you want about the meaning of “militia” and the multiple possible interpretations of the rest of the text of 2A, but those first words mean regulations on arms are not only allowed but mandated “for the security of a free state.” Regulations are not infringements. It says it right there, first clause.

    • Frank Haggerty   April 9, 2018 at 12:39 pm

      Generally speaking, the first ten Amendments, commonly termed the Bill of Rights, are understood to provided limitations to the powers of the government; not to mandate the use of these powers.

      The unabbreviated, unedited text of the 2nd Amendment is: “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” Of note are the two, separate clauses.

      There is no mandate for the regulation by law of militias, or arms (quite the opposite), and certainly no need, or even any concept, at least from the perspective of today, of regulating the crude firearms of that day. They were self-regulating. 1791, the year the amendment passed, was the age of flint and steel. Under the very best possible circumstances rifles and muskets could fire no more than 3 or 4 balls of lead a minute. Misfires were very common. No firearm would be “loaded” unless it was about to be used.

      • Carolyn C. Bachan   April 9, 2018 at 1:26 pm

        The word “regulate” in 1791 did not have the same usual meaning it does today. Back then it meant “orderly,” not necessarily a system of rules and mandated requirements.

        • Frank Haggerty   April 9, 2018 at 8:33 pm

          I agree. However the meanings are similar. And that’s why I included the qualifying phrase “by law” in my discussion of regulation in my last paragraph.

          I guess a central question, perhaps the central question, here is how could, or should, the desire for orderliness, in terms of the views of those authoring and approving constitutional law in the year 1791, translate into or otherwise be interpreted as relates the desire or need for regulation – meaning rules and/or laws – today?

  5. William R. Erichson
    William R. Erichson   April 6, 2018 at 7:01 pm

    How do they enforce this?

  6. Tom Nastasi   April 7, 2018 at 7:15 am

    They can’t enforce this law until after the fact. I can think of only one time back in the late 1970s when a minor fired a weapon and someone was shot. This happened in Nelsonville when a boy was shot by his brother playing with a handgun. He survived. The gun owner left it loaded and the boys found it. Yes, common sense should have prevailed. But any law could not have stopped this. People do stupid things. No law can stop stupid. Common sense trumps this law. I wonder if the Town Board looked at any stats in reference too stolen guns and accidental shootings in Philipstown. Locked or not, law or no law, the people who own guns make that choice. Having said that, if this law makes gun owners think twice about leaving a gun out with children around, it will work — for a while. We Americans have a short memories.

    • Michael Armstrong   April 7, 2018 at 7:14 pm

      I am old enough to remember the skepticism about seat belt laws. Many thought they were a violation of their rights, and would never work anyway because people just would not be able to remember to fasten them. Well, that turned out pretty well (and is still working, last time I looked). I hope skeptics will come around to seeing this gun-storage law as something worth trying, and respecting the courage of our town councilmen, who were willing to see it through.

  7. Tom Nastasi   April 9, 2018 at 9:02 am

    Seat belt laws are something that is easily noticeable by law enforcement. This law is not until after something goes wrong. I believe there are prosecutable consequences in place already in the event that a gun is accidentally or purposely discharged and the authorities are called. This issue is done anyway — it’s a law in the Philipstown books. I am done beating this dead horse.