It was an emotionally charged night at City Hall Wednesday as council members voted unanimously to pass a resolution asking exhibitors at an upcoming gun show not to display or sell certain items.
The resolution, which is non-binding, asks that “semi-automatic weapons and high capacity ammunition magazines of the type used in the Newtown (Connecticut) tragedy” not be exhibited or sold at the NEACA Arms Fair. The fair runs from January 11-13 at the Saratoga Springs City Center.
The capacity crowd of about 50 people applauded loudly as the vote was completed.
Petition organizer Susan Steer
You can listen to the public comment portion of the council meeting here
A dozen people spoke before the vote, during the public comment portion of the meeting. First to speak was Susan Steer, a Saratoga resident who organized a petition calling on the City Center to not just limit what can be sold at the show, but to cancel it altogether. The petition asks for the cancellation to “give our community some time to take a breath and have a conversation about whether we want to be a community that will support an event where these types of guns may be sold.”
Steer told council members that while cancelling the gun show may cost money, it should still be done. “The bottom line is, this isn’t about money. This should be more about saving lives, including children’s lives.”
Mary Beth DeLarm told a personal story about domestic violence, saying that the person who had harmed her had also purchased firearms at a previous gun show. She said the Saratoga gun show needs to have better background checks that include those with orders of protection against them. “I beg for someone in the city to do something about it,” she said.
Of the 12 who spoke, just one was in favor of keeping the gun show. John Tighe, a regular at council meetings, pointed out that gun shows are already regulated. So he said if people really want to stop unregulated sales, they should instead focus on such venues as Want Ad Digest, “Where sale to sale from person to person is completely legal with no background check whatsoever. And it’s also one of the largest ways that people sell guns to people that don’t have background checks and can’t pass one.”
Devra Cohen-Tigör asked Mayor Scott Johnson if he has signed the statement of principles that is currently being circulated to city leaders by the group, Mayors Against Illegal Guns. The organization was started by Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York, and according to the site’s list of signatories it has been endorsed by many of the mayors of cities in the Capital region, including those from Glens Falls, Lake George, Albany, Troy, Schenectady and Rensselaer.
Mayor Johnson did not respond directly to her question, but just before the council went into executive session Johnson told Saratoga Wire that he wasn’t certain if he had signed the statement or not. “I don’t believe we have, but I do recall being approached on gun control by a forum I thought was a mayor’s forum.” However, the group’s list of signatories does not include Saratoga Springs.
Accounts Commissioner John Franck with Finance Commissioner Michele Madigan
After more than a half hour of public comments, the council members began discussion of the resolution itself, led initially by Public Safety Commissioner Chris Mathiesen. “We worked this out over the past week to try to be able to make a statement that will attempt to relate to the community the fact that we are sensitive to these concerns.” However, he pointed out that there are limitations to any action the council can take. “There’s a contract that was signed (by the City Center), and we have to honor that.”
And he also pointed out that the City Council has little real control over the City Center’s Board, so any resolution could only serve as a suggestion. The board’s members are appointed by the mayor and approved by council, and the Mayor sits on the board. But the Council itself has no real control over the day to day operations of the City Center, or of its board.
Despite those limitations, Mathiesen mentioned a plaque at the City Center that “talks about the City Center being built by the citizens of our city, and I think that’s important. It’s the community that built that building.” And allowing these shows to go on “that continue to sell these types of weapons is not consistent with what’s in the best interest of our community.”
Public Works Commissioner Anthony “Skip” Scirocco said the city has a household hazardous waste pickup day, so he asked why the city can’t have a gun buy-back program as well. “I certainly can find some money in my budget to, just a few thousand dollars to at least get the program started.”
Finance Commissioner Michele Madigan said such a program was a good idea, but should be the subject of a separate amendment. And Mathiesen indicated that the city police will already take in surrendered weapons, but without a cash payment. Mayor Johnson meanwhile suggested that the financial component of such a program needs to be worked out before Council can vote on it.
Madigan then said she felt the resolution under discussion should be made stronger in regard to the upcoming gun show, “So that we could then go forward and have a discussion as a community and as a council about how we see gun shows here in our community, whether they are appropriate for our City Center.”
The original resolution brought to the council by Public Safety Commissioner Chris Mathiesen had asked only that semi-automatic weapons and high-capacity magazines not be exhibited at the gun show. Madigan suggested that it be altered to include both ‘exhibited’ and ‘sold.’ “If we can’t do something,” she said, “than who can.” With that statement, the crowd burst out in applause once again.
However, Madigan also urged caution in such action, saying it can become a slippery slope when you start saying “you can’t have certain things in our public buildings.”
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You can listen to the council debate over the resolution here
Eventually a vote on the amended resolution was taken, and it passed 5-0, again followed by audience applause.
City Center President Mark Baker was at the meeting, but did not speak publicly. He would not comment directly on the vote itself, but afterward he did acknowledge the emotion on display during the meeting. “Certainly we understand the sensitivity; we are clearly aware of the gravity of the community’s feeling.” He did, however, suggest a bit of a time out on the issue. “Everybody needs to let their voices settle a little bit, and think about what it is people are looking for, want to accomplish, and what’s the best way to do that.”
The city’s resolution is not the final word on the issue. Because the resolution is non-binding, exhibitors at the NEACA Arms Fair may still display semi-automatic weapons similar to those used in the attack last December if they like, even though the show promoter is asking them not to. But promoter David Petronis says the issue may be a non-starter anyway. He says there has been such a run on semi-automatic weapons and high capacity magazines across the country, dealers may not be able to get their hands on any new stock before the show.
Petronis, meanwhile, has contracts in place for a total of four shows at the City Center in 2013, including one on the third weekend in March.
ON THE WIRE