An on-line petition urging officials at the Saratoga Springs City Center to cancel an upcoming gun show in January has gathered more than 700 signatures in less than a week. The petition, posted at 3pm on December 22 says, “The thought of allowing NEACA (New Eastcoast Arms Collectors Association – the show sponsor) to hold a gun show at the city center just a few weeks after the shooting where a person could purchase military style, semi-automatic weapons, shocks our conscience and shows a lack of sensitivity to the residents of Newtown who are still deeply mourning the loss of their loved ones.”
Saratoga Springs resident Susan Steer says she started the petition after speaking with Mark Baker, the President of the City Center. “I asked him, is there any chance that you guys have thought about cancelling the gun show? And he said point blank, no – that they had a legal contract and that they were obligated to hold the gun show, and he talked about how this was a legal activity, and talked about the second amendment, and I felt like he was almost lecturing me.”
After her conversation with Baker, Steer says she thought about what he said, and talked it over with friends for a few days. “Most of my friends were pretty horrified to also find out there was going to be a gun show. So that’s when I decided to do the petition.”
Baker says he understands the emotional response to the school shooting in Connecticut. “There’s certainly not a lack of empathy or understanding or sympathy to the concerns that the country feels towards what happened in Connecticut.” And he says he’s aware of the petition. “I’m conscious of people sharing their thoughts. Emotions I think are very, very high and there’s a lot of deep feelings regarding this issue.” But he says the signatures won’t change anything. “The City Center has a contractual obligation to this group for their event to be held. At this point there’s no reason why the city center would not move forward in honoring that commitment.”
The City Center is not the only venue to be confronted with this issue. In Westchester County, officials have cancelled a gun show scheduled for February.
Peter Tartaglia is the Deputy Commissioner for Westchester County Parks, the agency that operates the Westchester County Center. He says they made their decision to cancel the February show, along with another in November, on the Monday after the Newtown shootings, well before there was any public pressure to do so. “We just decided it wasn’t appropriate right now to do it. It (the Newtown shootings) wasn’t a local event just to Connecticut, it was local to the whole country, and certainly to us in Westchester. Now we’ll have a larger discussion in Westchester County on violence and preventing it, and of course protecting our children.”
Tartaglia says the organizers of the gun show were unhappy with the decision, but understood the county’s position. “The shows they’ve had in the past have all been thoroughly professional. They’re very well run shows. But it’s a time where we feel it wouldn’t be appropriate (to have a gun show) in a county building.”
The gun shows have only recently been allowed back in Westchester. They had been cancelled for more than a decade following the school shooting in Columbine Colorado.
Other shows have also been cancelled. In Danbury CT, not far from Newtown, a gun and knife show scheduled for early January was cancelled. A gun and knife show in Suffern, NY run by the same promoter has also been cancelled.
Even cable TV’s Discovery Channel has cancelled two gun-themed shows in the wake of the Newtown school shooting.
However, other gun shows have gone on as planned with no problems, including one in the past week in Memphis.
The Saratoga gun show, which begins its 30th year at the City Center in January, has been a mainstay for the facility, and according to NEACA owner David Petronis of Mechanicville, a real money-maker for city businesses. “There’s 250 tables, so we’ve got to figure there’s probably about 100 dealers. Anybody who’s not local gets a hotel room, so times two nights, so you’re looking at probably 100-150 nights of hotels. A thousand meals at least, or more.”
And while he says there’s no way to gauge exactly how much money is spent at the show itself, he says it’s at least $1,000,000. “We bring a lot of money up there. So cancelling a show is cancelling a lot of hotel rooms, a lot of food, and a lot of gas.”
Petronis’ wife, Cathy, says the Saratoga gun show has always been more of a collector’s show. She says semi-automatic weapons make up a very small portion of the weapons on display. “We have 250 tables, and if there is 5% of those type of guns at the show, that would be a lot.” And she says they will accommodate concerns about having those weapons at the show by asking vendors to not display them publicly. “What is called assault weapons – we call them black guns. What we may do is to have the dealers keep them under their tables.”
Saratoga County Supervisor Joanne Yepsen is having a meeting with David and Cathy Petronis on January 3. She says she isn’t asking that the show be cancelled. “I’m requesting they not bring in the high caliber military type weaponry – that they don’t include them in the show.
“It’s about the whole city coming together. There is a point where everyone needs to make concessions based on sensitivity to what happened.”
Baker meanwhile says community values really don’t play much of a role in deciding what events are allowed at the City Center. “It is not my position nor the authority’s to take personal litmus tests on every group that comes in. That’s not our role and I don’t think that’s the role of any public entity.”
When asked specifically if the City Center is values-neutral when making booking decisions, making no moral judgments as to the event as long as it’s legal and safe, he responded, “That’s a primarily correct statement, yes.”
Susan Steer says if people think this is only about the events in Connecticut, they’re really missing the point. “This is something that could happen to us; this isn’t sort of an abstract idea. We had a person here in town just this past year (Brent Dickinson) who threatened to kill children in an elementary school.” Brent Dickinson pleaded guilty in August for e-mailing a threat to take local school children hostage and kill them.
Steer says she hopes the petition gets a fair hearing with City Center officials. “At least, at the very least, they’ll think about whether or not this is a group they want to continue having at the city center.”
When the petition reaches 1,000 signatures, Steer says they will present the petition and its signatures to officials at the City Center.
The NEACA gun shows, meanwhile, have been contracted at the city center through 2013, with four shows scheduled, including the January show and another scheduled for the third weekend in March.
A sampling of comments from the petition site:
Jon Wurtmann, Saratoga Springs: Our tax dollars support the City Center - we should have a voice in what it is used for!
Louise Goldstein, Saratoga Springs: Stop the gun show in Saratoga
John Brueggemann, Saratoga Springs: Our city should not add to the violence. Hunters and other responsible gun owners don't this kind of unreasonable access to weapons of murder.
Kathryn Stockwell, Ballston Spa: As a mother, and a United States citizen, I am mourning with those affected by the tragedy that took place at Sandy Hook Elementary. In our community, our country, and around the world, this is a time for thoughtful consideration of, and bold action to stop tragic events like this from happening again. It is a time to come together in sadness in order to find the strength to create positive and preventative change. It is not the time for a gun show.
Kevin Quandt, Saratoga Springs: I have had a family member killed because semi-automatic weapons ended up in the wrong civilian hands. The ongoing pattern of violence in our communities needs to stop... today.
A number of efforts have been established to accept donations to help those affected by the tragedy in Newtown. Among them is a new site supporting Newtown teachers as they return to the classroom.
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