February 25, 2013

Joe Maniscalco

Even though their plans to hold a massive rally in support of the NY SAFE Act later this week have been scrapped, gun control advocates led by 1199SEIU say they are not giving in to National Rifle Association [NRA] “threats” – and will instead hold an even bigger demonstration in Albany very soon.

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“Threats are not going to stop us,” 1199SEIU President George Gresham told LaborPress on Sunday. “We are not intimidated. 1199 has a history of standing up for social justice issues, and often times those issues may be controversial. But I must tell you, this is the most vitriolic response we’ve had in years around this issue. It’s almost like a religion for some people.”

Leery New York State Police, fearful of a potential clash between pro- and anti-gun control factions in Albany on February 28, reportedly declined to grant 1199SEIU and its supporters a demonstration permit because one had already been approved for the NRA on the same day.

“They had originally put in for their permit first,” Gresham said. “So, rather than announcing that we are going to be in Albany on the 28th…we are here to announce that within the month, we will have one of the largest demonstrations for common sense gun control we believe that this country has ever seen.”

Representatives from numerous gun control organizations, victims’ rights groups, as well city and state elected officials, joined Gresham at 1199SEIU headquarters in Manhattan to make the announcement. 

“We cannot allow any of these zealots out there to stop us from turning the tide of progress that has been made in recent weeks,” New York City Comptroller John Liu said. “Sensible gun control doesn’t impede on anyone’s Second Amendment rights.”

Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the NY SAFE Act into law last month following the massacre of 20 children and seven adults in Newtown, Connecticut last December. The law seeks to expand mental health checks, further restrictions on assault weapons and curb the availability of high capacity ammunition. 

Gun control advocates have hailed the measure, holding it up as a model for the rest of the country to follow, while the NRA leadership and gun lobby have vehemently denounced it.

And despite the horror of Newtown, gun control advocates say that the massacre’s impact has already been significantly muted. 

“We don’t really get into what happened that day to those babies who were victims of gun violence that is unimaginable,” Gresham said. “If I had my wish, I would wish that one of the parents from Newtown would allow pictures to be public of what happened to their children, so that we could stop sanitizing what happened to those little babies.”

Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer said that it was the right time for gun control advocates to be “drawing a line in the sand.”

“The story of Newton hasn’t been told,” Stringer said. “What we don’t really recognize is that these little babies were shot multiple times over and over again by a maniac with an assault weapon. If that does not tell us that the NRA should simply stand down, disband…if this is the way they’re going to approach our country, then we’re going to meet them head on.”

The NRA immediately pounced on Cuomo after the NY SAFE Act was signed into law, saying that the path to ratification was “rushed” and that the legislation itself was “draconian.”

New York State Assemblyman Brian Kavanagh, co-chair of the State Legislators Against Illegal Guns, however, dismissed those claims. 

“The opposition is saying that a lot of this is new and was done quickly, but the simple fact is that most of these ideas have been around a long time,” Assemblyman Kavanagh said. “Most of them are popular. Many of us have been fighting for them for a long time. Some of them have been around so long, that there was a time when the NRA itself supported many of these ideas.”

Aside from the weapons used, the common thread running through the mass murders plaguing the nation, has long been the mental instability associated with the perpetrators of the crimes. The NY SAFE Act calls on mental health practitioners to identify any patient exhibiting threatening behavior so that authorities can determine through a newly established database if the person is also in possession of a registered gun. 

“The right to own a gun is not absolute,” New York City Councilwoman Jessica Lappin said. “We are not going to stop until the NRA backs down and doesn’t continue to  drive and distort the discussion in this country. Because the majority of Americans do not want to be afraid when they go to a movie, when they go to church, or when they drop their children off at school.”

New York State Senator Daniel Squadron blasted the NRA’s reaction to the NY SAFE Act becoming law. 

“The reaction was to say, you know what? Democracy in this case wasn’t able to be blocked, wasn’t able to be stifled, wasn’t able to stymied by our lobbying, and so, all we have left is threats,” State Senator Squadron said. “The gun lobby is not about the people’s will, it is not about the Constitution. It’s about threats and the stifling of democracy.”

New York City Councilwoman Gail Brewer recalled the spate of threatening e-mails she received a few years ago after successfully championing a gun control resolution in the City Council.

“I never have seen such nasty e-mails,” Councilwoman Brewer said. “Threats to my life, and my staff’s lives. Hundreds of them within seconds of passage. That is who we are dealing with. That is the NRA. They’re not people who you can work with in any kind of normal situation.” 

After giving too many speeches before the coffins of young shooting victims during her time in office, New York City Councilwoman Letitia James said that “some people have a twisted interpretation of the Second Amendment.”

“All that we are asking for are reasonable gun laws,” Councilwoman James said

Gun expert and Marine Corps. veteran Marie Delus said that even though she lost her own 19-year-old nephew to gun violence in 2008, it took the events at Newtown to “wake her up” about the need for gun control.

“I said [to myself], they’re killing babies out there,” Delus recalled. “I’m just here to say that we need reasonable gun regulations.”

According to Gresham, some 1199SEIU members who also happen to belong to the NRA, nevertheless, also support the gun control coalition.

“They agree with common sense gun control,” said Gresham. “History cannot reflect that we had children being mowed down in their school, and we did nothing about it.”


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