By Mark Scheer
Niagara Gazette — While there may not have been any public hearings or opportunity for public discourse prior to Tuesday’s approval of the nation’s toughest gun restrictions, Sen. George Maziarz said he heard plenty from local residents.
“I have had close to 1,000 calls from residents in my district and many from first-responders who are also responsible gun owners,” the senator said in a relase. “They strongly urged me to vote no. Thus, in spite of some of the good in this bill, I could not support this package.
“The vast majority of gun owners in our state are law-abiding and conscientious. This is especially true of my constituents, who are always vigilant when it comes to protecting their Second Amendment rights. Concerned about the gun control debates taking place in Albany and Washington, they have been very vocal over the past week.”
Assemblyman John Ceretto said he was troubled by Albany leader’s closed-door meetings resulting in the passage of a hastily crafted gun-control bill.
Russell Petrie, chairman of the Niagara County chapter of the Shooters Committee on Public Education, or SCOPE NY, said he believes state lawmakers are getting “carried away” when it comes to such things as classifying various firearms as “assault” rifles and believes the implementation of things like a statewide registry for those who own certain weapons will only serve to further regulate gun owners who follow the rules as they exist today.
“It’s not going to solve anything,” said Petrie, whose organization is based in Lockport but consists of members from across Niagara County. “All you are doing is taking more away from the law-abiding citizens. If you outlaw guns, only outlaws are going to have guns. That’s the reality of it. They are still going to get them no matter what.”
Petrie said the state should be doing more tackle underlying issues that he believes have led to high-profile shooting incidents in recent years, including concerns about care for the mentally ill and violence that is often associated with video games.
“You’ve got to look at the whole, overall picture and attack the real situation and not just go after whatever’s easy to go after,” he said.
Of course, there are those who welcome the new measures, including Michael Cole, a Niagara Falls resident who has worked in recent years with the local anti-violence group, Operation SNUG.
Cole said he supports tighter restrictions on guns, saying more must be done to prevent tragic shootings like the one that happened in Newtown, Conn.
“I really do think that it’s something we should have been taking a look at a long time ago before something drastic happened and lives have been taken,” Cole said. “A life is a life — whether it is a child’s life or an adult’s life or a teenager’s life.”
Operation SNUG — guns spelled backward — operated with state financing and was developed to work with area law enforcement officials and the city’s police department to prevent local kids from joining gangs or getting involved with crime and violence. The program’s funding dried up late last year, but Cole said he continues to work with area youth on his own.
For the most part, Cole said he does not see a big push among area teens to acquire semi-automatic rifles and other higher-powered firearms. However, he said, he would not rule out the possibility that any one of them could acquire such weapons, noting that if the money’s right, people of all ages can buy just about anything. That’s one of the reasons why Cole believes it’s wise to impose limits on guns.
“I don’t think there’s anything these kids can’t get at the right price,” Cole said. “It’s not just Niagara Falls. It’s anywhere. I believe they can get those things right here in Niagara Falls. I’m a firm believer that where there’s a will, there’s a way.”
Dennis Deasy, owner and operater of the Niagara Gun Range on Niagara Falls Boulevard in the Town of Wheatfield, tends to agree.
“I see what they are trying to do and it’s just a knee-jerk reaction and it’s not going to change a darn thing,” he said. “Even if I weren’t in the business, I would feel the same way. Why am I being persecuted? Why don’t they go after the troublemakers?”