Image source: Mayors Against Illegal Guns
A matter-of-fact article in the right-leaning Daily Mail (“Gun rights organizer calls for civil disobedience“) highlighted a number of pernicious trends that keep upstate New York, including Greene, backward, poor and unhealthy. The most insidious of these was not the pro-gun rally organizer, Billy Martin, who seems to be a caricature of the ill-informed and easily manipulated gun lover. No, the worst of it was the presence and miguided encouragement of “nice guy” state legislator Pete Lopez.
Lopez: leading his constituents backward.
Martin railed against apathy, saying that gun owners represented such large numbers that, if everyone would just wake up and get on board, “We sweep the day, uncontested”. This is, of course, a self-serving delusion: gun ownership has been declining for years. As Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy notes:
Gun ownership has dramatically dropped over the last 20 years, so now it’s about selling a larger number of more expensive weapons to a smaller number of customers. The N.R.A., doing the bidding of the industry, ratchets up paranoia about government so that those people will go out and buy more guns.
No, Martin’s not the problem, obnoxious though he may be. He is simply a type, a loud and fanatical, self-appointed spokesman for a dwindling minority. Lopez is the problem. He is supposed to represent the best interests, health and well-being of his constituents, and he is failing miserably in that regard when he joins with local upstate zealots in claiming that “the challenge will be, we’re gonna have to strike down every piece of that damn bill [the NY SAFE Act] to kill it … and in the future we’ve got to prevent that stuff from coming forward.” Lopez went on to claim that fighting against gun control will “determine the fate of America”.
What Lopez should be focusing on is the health of the people he represents—their health is not likely to be improved by making it easier for guns to metastasize throughout upstate NY even more widely. Indeed, the counties that are calling for the repeal of NY SAFE are among the sickest—literally—in the state. Greene ranks 55th in health care outcomes, out of the state’s 62 counties. That’s down from 52nd place the year before. (Columbia held steady in 45th place.)
The upstate economy could stand some serious attention, too. It seems to be growing steadily sicker along with its inhabitants. Instead, Lopez chooses to spin fictitious scenarios about basic human rights under seige by sinister government forces.
Finally, what passes for honest reportage in this benighted district could use some more media pushback as well. Where is the commentary from our perceptive local bloggers? Carole? Sam? We need you to step up on all of these very serious issues.
Both Martin and Lopez trashed newly elected State Senator Cecelia Tkaczyk and suggested she needed to be removed. (How, exactly? By “ballots or bullets,” as the gun fanatics like to say?) Tkaczyk is one of the brightest spots in recent upstate politics, and represents real hope for change. She deserves your support. Lopez does not.
Come on, people. If you want a better, healthier upstate New York, then come forward and speak out. Don’t let ignorance and fanaticism control the conversation.
Update, April 9: No other subject generates such heated response. Some of it is rational, most of it is not. Venom abounds. And gun lovers from around the country feel free to join in—with any other issue, the response is generally local.
From this point on, I will approve comments selectively. I am not going to take the time to respond to each one. It becomes tiresome responding to the same formulaic arguments, over and over again. Suffice it to say that America has a very serious problem, and it has as much to do with gun lovers as it does with guns.
One of the most intolerable aspects of the “pro-gun” argument, for rational Americans, is the heavy reliance such proponents place on the Second Amendment. The NRA and others cite the Second Amendment as graven in stone, permitting no possible deviance from its absolute law. This is nonsense.
The amendment is an antique, and it has been twisted by right-wing courts into a travesty of present-day relevance. The amendment did not have the intent of guaranteeing citizens the right to possess and use super-charged, military-grade weapons that can kill dozens in a few minutes. The constant citing by “gun rights advocates” of the Second Amendment as something approaching the Word of God is therefore absurd, as the illustration below makes clear.
Assault weapons were never intended. Image source: the New York Times, Christopher Sergio, photographs by JRB/Fotolia, zim101/Fotolia and Anatoly Vartanov/Fotolia.
There is a very strong argument to make for rewriting the amendment, to accord with common sense and strike some semblance of a balance between gun owners’ “rights” and public safety. There is also a strong argument for abolishing the amendment altogether, something I would personally favor. I do recognize that this is very unlikely to happen, however.
But rewriting the Second Amendment does seem possible, perhaps after several more senseless atrocities have occurred. If you have an open mind, read why such a revision could convey benefits to people on both sides of the gun debate in this article.
Perhaps the most infuriating thing about America’s gun nuts is their constant clamor for respect and their so-called “rights”. This culminates in the right-wing glorification and distortion of the Second Amendment, far beyond its original scope. And it creates a whole slew of specious arguments, many funded by the NRA, which aim to undergird what is ultimately an indefensible position.
Much of the reaction to my last post revolved around the fact that my pro gun-control position was seen as a minority viewpoint. Following that logic, many of my correspondents took it a step further and suggested I move somewhere more congenial. I will grant that gun control is not currently popular in Greene County. But the NY SAFE Act is not a Greene County creation, it is state law. And in the state at large, rational gun control is strongly favored by a solid majority of people (70-30, by most estimates). NY SAFE is not going anywhere.
Upstate gun-rights activists: rude, rustic and out of place.
Another gun-lover argument that’s not going anywhere: weaponized “patriots” who arm themselves to uphold civil rights, and defend against a totalitarian government. (The NRA calls itself, with a straight face, America’s oldest civil rights organization.) First of all, the focus is wrong: if you’re concerned about misuse of government power, now or in the future, your recourse should be political involvement, not assault weapons. Do you think your AR-15 can stand up to a drone? Secondly, the old canard that the government is “coming to take your guns” is growing very tiresome, simply because it is repeated so ignorantly and so often. No one is taking your guns, unless you misuse them.
It is actually these upstate conspiracy theorists who are in the minority in New York State. And their minority position will only become more conspicuous as the country haltingly moves toward social and political progress in the 21st century. The fact is, gun “rights” adherents are rude, rustic and increasingly out of place.
Take the recent rally for “gun rights” in Albany as an example. I drove past the rally site at the State Capitol the morning of February 28, as the protesters were beginning to assemble. On the left side of State Street, by the park, an ordinary-looking guy in camo smirked as he leaned on his rifle like a cane. (Adult men in civilian camouflage always strike me as kids playing at war. They look ridiculous.) Across the street, some fat guy bent over into a rusted-out car (to grab more guns?), his butt crack on prominent display. For the rest of the morning, up until 2 PM or so, the crowd (far less than the 5,000 cited in the press; it was more like 2,000, tops) milled in and around the park, chanting slogans like “We will not comply!” They were a sad, bedraggled lot, overwhelmingly male and all dressed up in hunting gear and baseball caps, who walked in pairs and groups of three or four to stand apart from the businesspeople and government workers who normally occupy this space.
It was their moment, and I think they enjoyed it. But these rural New Yorkers are not going to succeed in foisting their backward beliefs on the people of this state. If they can’t, or won’t, conform to the new law, then I suggest they move someplace more congenial. Someplace where rural life predominates and anti-government conspiracy theories abound. Someplace like Idaho.
UPDATE, April 15. Four new comments from Pat Kosorek. He has nothing original to say, and he was likely prompted to comment by yesterday’s post rather than this one, but I decided to publish his observations anyway. They do reflect the mindset of the opposition, along with the quality of its discourse.
UPDATE, 9 PM. There have been quite a few comments from gun lovers, and these comments speak volumes. One Pat Kosorek is particularly eloquent.
We’ve meant to comment on this before now, but Kyle Adams’s timely piece in today’s Daily Mail prompts this post: Catskill Village President Vincent Seeley is to be applauded for voting “no” to last week’s Greene County resolution to repeal the NY SAFE Act. Seeley’s action took courage and intelligence, qualities notably lacking in most of his colleagues. We salute him.
For behaving like an adult and doing the right thing, Seeley has been savaged by the mindless pro-gun forces, notably the “Greene County NY Citizens for Gun Rights” on their horrific Facebook page (I’m not about to link to it). Here is a group that proudly posts photos of AR-15s with captions like “Fuck You, Cuomo—Come and Get It.” It’s worth a lot that Greene County has ONE legislator willing to stand up to these jerks.
Thank you, Vince Seeley. And thanks to Kyle Adams for the fair-minded account in today’s paper.
If you’re as appalled as I am by the moronic anti-NY SAFE resolution submitted by the Greene County legislature last week, this week offers you two opportunities to do something about it.
The first opportunity is a press conference in support of the NY SAFE Act, to be held at the State Capitol in Albany on Thursday, Feb. 28 at noon. The press conference is being organized by Mayors Against Illegal Guns, New Yorkers Against Gun Violence, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense, and others. You can RSVP here.
Then there is a rally the next day, also at noon at the State Capitol, sponsored by the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. You can bet that the retrograde pro-gun forces will show up too, so please try your best to support NY SAFE at both events.
A final note: keep an eye on the news early this week. It’s possible that the close proximity of these two events may lead to one large, coordinated event on one day or the other.
Stand up for common sense and do the right thing for your family, friends and neighbors: sign this petition. Let Greene County Legislature Chairman Wayne Speenburgh and his cohorts know that they don’t speak for us with their misguided attempt to repeal the NY SAFE ACT.
You can make your voice heard for progress, safety and sanity in Greene County. Sign the Keep Greene County NY SAFE Petition. Thank you.
So now we learn that Greene County has drafted a resolution calling for the repeal of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s NY SAFE Act. The resolution will be voted on next week.
“We believe we have the support to pass this at our public safety meeting on Tuesday,” Greene County Legislature Chairman Wayne Speenburgh, R-Coxsackie, said yesterday, “and then our whole legislature on Wednesday night at our regular monthly meeting.”
A long, depressing list of other upstate New York counties is already on record as opposing the new gun control law. Greene, somewhat belatedly, will now apparently join their backward-looking ranks.
Speenburgh said the SAFE Act was a matter of Upstate vs. Downstate, and proper respect for gun owners’ rights. He is correct on both counts. “Downstate” DOES support the new law, which DOES respect gun owners’ rights. The frenzy over “gun rights” being whipped up by the far right fringe has nothing to do with responsible gun ownership or gun control. “Downstate” can see that. “Upstate,” including Greene County, apparently cannot.
Passing a copycat resolution in Greene is a waste of the county legislature’s time and resources. It also does a disservice to those of us who live in this county and support the new law.
A better use of the county legislature’s time might be to examine the Upstate-Downstate dichotomy more closely, and examine why one region thrives and the other does not.The answer has a lot to do with looking forward, out toward the world at large, rather than chronically peering backward into one’s own insular history and outlook.
The following story is true.
A few years years back, I was walking two large dogs on a rural road in Greene County, not far from my home. They were newly arrived rescue dogs, and they were alarmed by vehicles on the road—the breed is trained to guard, and they saw the vehicles as threats. Whenever one would come by, the animals would pull and lunge. Since they each weighed 120 pounds or so, controlling them was something of an effort.
A red pickup truck went by, going uphill. The dogs behaved predictably, and I struggled to get them back into walking mode. Two minutes later, the same vehicle returned, going downhill. This pissed me off, and I gave its driver the finger. He backed up to ask “what my problem was,” and a “conversation” ensued.
I pointed out that he had traversed the same space twice within a couple of minutes, and asked him if this was part of his entertainment routine, driving back and forth on a country road. He replied that he had gone to see a friend, who wasn’t home. I asked if he had ever tried using a telephone. And so on and so forth.
Now this was a big guy, but with the curious, high-pitched, whiny voice that many of Greene County’s “native” men seem to possess. He did not seem like the sharpest knife in the drawer. I asked him if he had a rifle in his truck, just to see if he conformed to the stereotype. “Yes I do,” he said proudly. “And if you don’t like hunting, why don’t you go back where you came from?” He pointed out that his “daddy” and his “daddy’s daddy” had been hunters.
Several days later, I was walking the dogs again, this time with my wife, when this guy—let’s call him Joe Moron—came by again. This time he feinted toward my wife and her dog with his pickup. We followed him to a neighbor’s house, this particular neighbor being another proud Greene County native. Further words ensued. When my wife noted that he had come close to hitting one of our dogs with his truck, Mr. Moron noted that “next time I will.” I told him that if he ever hurt my wife or one of our dogs, I would kill him. This was both a rhetorical commonplace and not; I was very angry. What I envisioned at the moment was a fistfight in which I left him bloody on the ground, even though he had 50 pounds on me and was a good 20 years younger.
“Oh, I’ll remember that,” was his response.
Fast forward a week or so. We’re out with the dogs again, about 25 feet from the entrance to our driveway, when we find two dead coyotes. They had been shot and dumped there, a crude and savage message. The following week, another pair of coyotes turned up dead on an adjacent road, where the original dog-walking incident took place. My wife and I found this upsetting, of course, but not really alarming, as we didn’t believe Moron had the personal daring or the intellectual wherewithal to actually harm us or our dogs.
We did feel bad for the coyotes, though. Four of them were needlessly shot, simply to make some redneck’s inchoate “point”. Another neighbor, a sensitive, intelligent woman (and a non-native), was terribly upset, and she put up a sign accusing the coyotes’ killer of moral depravity and cowardice. She was right, of course.
OK—what is the point of this rambling anecdote, you may ask?
Simply this: many people own guns who shouldn’t. Stupid people. Uneducated people. Violent people. People not fully in control of their thoughts or emotions. A right-wing Supreme Court has decreed it is their right to do so. But New York State has recently taken steps to disagree with that catastrophic decision, and to restore some balance to the questions of gun ownership and gun control.
The state didn’t go far enough, in my opinion. But at least it’s a start.
Today is the first day of hunting season, something we always dread around here because of the noise and the traffic (and the frequent rudeness) hunters engender in our neck of the woods. Walking the dogs this morning, my wife and I spotted a truck parked directly under a “Posted” sign—we know the property owners, and they don’t allow hunting on their property. That’s why they posted signs in the first place. What’s more, their property is a good half-mile away from the public land that is open to hunters. So, we called the town police.
The cop’s first reaction was, “I’m not going in any woods up against a high-powered rifle”. Well, OK—we’re not asking you to do that. How about just leaving a note on the truck saying something like, “A complaint has been received and we’d like to discuss it with you.” He said he would check with his supervisor.
Several hours later, the cop called back. “Everything’s fine,” he said. “I talked to the guy—he’s a big property owner around here, and he doesn’t need to trespass because he has plenty of land of his own.” The cop also said the hunter was on public land. “Well then,” we asked, “why was his truck parked half a mile away, in front of someone else’s property?” “I don’t know,” the cop admitted, “but he said he was on public land, and he’s a big property owner so I believe him.”
Our tax dollars at work. This is an excellent example of local priorities, and the consideration local taxpayers and homeowners can expect to receive if they dare question the presence of a sacred hunter. Nice work, local police department—you’ve just demonstrated that 50 “Posted” signs don’t mean a goddamn thing.
This, to me, is a minor form of corruption—the local cops being preempted by custom and the good old boy network into ignoring the law.
Here’s a more blatant example: municipal attorney Tal Rappleyea (he’s the skinny dude on the left in the photo below).
Going along to get along? The Jewett Town Board. Credit: Town of Jewett.
According to this article in the Times-Union, Rappleyea really has a way with a time clock—he’s billed for 26 hours a day, and collected payment for 93.75 hours in a single week. Weeks in excess of 70 hours have also been logged frequently. Asked how he could regularly work such long hours, Rappleyea responded “I’m in pretty good shape”.
Now, this sort of exploitation would be absurd if it were restricted to a single town. But Rappleyea is the attorney for a wide swath of municipalities across Columbia and Greene Counties. To wit: the towns of Austerlitz, Ashland, Cairo, Chatham, Durham, Greenville, Jewett, Lexington, Stuyvesant and Prattsville, and the village of Athens. And now, Germantown as well.
Stuyvesant resident and blogger Will Pflaum smelled a rat and launched his own investigation, spending nearly two years filing Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) requests and suing to obtain public records. Rappleyea’s extraordinary hours were unearthed as a result. Pflaum suggests that Rappleyea was very likely overbilling the municipalities he purported to serve (jeez, ya think?), but the officials in most of the towns involved apparently perceive no problem.
This is what’s known as “going along to get along,” and it’s rife in our area. Everyone does it, don’t make waves, just mind your own business.
Corruption viewed (if viewed at all) apathetically seems to be the norm around here. Kudos to Mr. Pflaum for digging into this particular instance. We need more people like you to stand up for integrity, challenge “business as usual” and make sure the laws on the books are actually enforced by the people who are supposed to be enforcing them.