Gun Signage Law Blocked in Dutchess

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Democrats sought warning signs at firearm shops

A proposal to post signs in Dutchess County gun shops to warn customers of the dangers of firearms failed on July 7 to make it out of the county Legislature’s Government Services Committee and onto the floor for a vote by all 25 legislators. 

Instead, Republican members of the Legislature, and some of the county residents who commented on the proposal, suggested the state reverse its 2019 bail reform laws if it wants to reduce gun violence. 

The proposal, introduced last month by the Democratic caucus, would have required signs to be posted anywhere a firearm can be purchased that read:

“Warning: Access to a firearm in the home significantly increases the risk of suicide, death during domestic violence disputes and the unintentional death of children, household members or others.” 

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The signs would also have included the phone numbers of the Dutchess County Helpline and the National Suicide Hotline.

Shops failing to post the signs would have been subject to a $250 fine. Westchester County legislators unanimously passed a similar resolution in May. 

During the Dutchess committee meeting on July 7, Republican leaders maintained that the law would have been unenforceable and would have no impact on gun violence. Gregg Pulver, the Legislature’s chair, read aloud a news report about a Dutchess County man who had been sent to prison after he held a middle school principal hostage in Pine Plains in 2009 while armed with a shotgun and was arrested again in April with a loaded shotgun that was illegal for him to own.

“You think a sign is going to stop these kinds of people from using guns in their possession?” he asked. “Absolutely not. It’s fictitious.” Pulver accused the Democratic legislators of wanting “to make this into some political football for themselves.”

Echoing a Poughkeepsie resident who had earlier criticized the “turnstile catch-and-release of prisoners,” Pulver said overturning the state’s bail reform law, which was heralded at the time of its passage by racial justice advocates, would be more effective. “Anybody who thinks a sign in a gun store will have any effect, even on one life, is fooling themselves and the public,” he said.

That one life is what elected officials should be thinking about, countered Legislator Yvette Valdes-Smith, a Democrat whose district includes part of Beacon. 

“This is not about taking anybody’s guns away,” she said. “Can we please look at this as parents and friends and neighbors? If [a sign] helps make one gun owner think twice to be more diligent, preventing one domestic violence incident, one suicide, one unintentional death of a child, then it is worth that effort.”

After nearly two hours of debate, the legislative attorney interjected, saying she had earlier that day received a memo from County Attorney Caroline Blackburn suggesting the proposal may be preempted by an existing county law, and might restrict the commercial free speech of firearms dealers. 

That effectively ended the discussion, and the measure was defeated, 7-4, which kept it off the full Legislature’s agenda for Monday (July 11).

6 thoughts on “Gun Signage Law Blocked in Dutchess

  1. Seriously? Why would anyone prefer warnings about the danger of guns not be posted? Do they not believe in karma?

  2. The International Organization for Standardization defines a safety label as a “label on a product that informs the observer of one or more potential hazards and describes the safety precautions and/or actions required to avoid the hazard(s).”

    Thus we have safety labels on plastic bags (“danger of suffocation”), cigarettes (“may cause heart disease, lung cancer, and complications in pregnancy”), alcoholic beverages (“may cause birth defects”), and even candles (“never leave unattended”).

    But no warning labels on guns. Tens of thousands of deaths each year are caused by firearms, but we don’t have even modest warnings about the dangers of guns.

    The Westchester County legislature unanimously passed a bill mandating a warning sign on places that sell guns:

    “Access to a weapon or firearm in the home significantly increases the risk of suicide, homicide, death during domestic disputes and unintentional deaths to children, household members and others. If you or a loved one is experiencing distress and/or depression, call the Crisis Prevention and Response team at 914-925-5959 or the National Suicide Hotline at 988.”

    Note that the sign will be placed on the outside of any business that sells guns, not on the firearm itself.

    I wrote to Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro urging him to take up the issue of signage, knowing there was local interest in passing such a bill. Even though Molinaro has an A rating from the NRA and has previously voted 32 times against common sense gun control measures, he also cares about public opinion, since he’s running for Congress, and has faced harsh criticism for how he handled money from the pandemic recovery funds. His office responded that I should “contact my local legislator to make my views known, as the bill is still being considered”.

    As good as that might sound on paper, the bill never made it out of committee and will not even be considered by the full board meeting. Sad but true.

  3. Often the response to a tragedy is to believe that you must “do something” to prevent it in the future. Unfortunately, that urge to “do something” often has results which either do nothing useful to prevent the tragedy or place additional restrictions on people who are innocent of any involvement in the tragedy and are entirely unlikely to engage in conduct which would cause the tragedy.

    If anyone things that requiring warning signs will deter human caused tragedies, consider all the signs and warnings already in place to avoid tragedies. People still smoke, despite prominently placed warnings from the Surgeon General. All our roadways are posted with warnings about the need to reduce speed for a variety of reasons — road condition, school zones etc. — warnings that are regularly ignored by drivers.

    There is no warning sign which can deter people from causing tragedies for innocent people either by accident or by design.

  4. Gun signage is very important. It is just as important as vape, cigarette and alcohol signage. We also have signage that promotes supporting mental health and preventing suicide. No one is blaming the gun stores, we are looking to educate people on the affects caused by guns. Illegal guns on the street is an area of concern, legal guns have been used to take one’s life. The data shows this and it’s not about being a Democratic or a Republican. It’s about any attempt we can make to hopefully save a life. [via Facebook]

  5. Hey, guns do what people want and can be used in dangerous ways. Why, brave gun-loving folks, are you afraid of a little warning? [via Instagram]

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