By REMINGTON WHITCOMB
Special to the OBSERVER
Inevitably, almost everyone has an opinion on the topic of gun control. It is an issue which has been thrust forward into America's collective consciousness, especially since citizens are still mourning the Sandy Hook tragedy as a nation.
Photos showing those killed in the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School are imprinted on fake roses at a memorial in the Sandy Hook village of Newtown, Conn., Saturday.
While everyone is entitled to have an opinion about what the next step may be, it is our politicians' responsibility to determine what stances to take and establish legislation which reflects those stances.
"The tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary is our greatest fear and nightmare," said state Sen. Catharine Young (R,C,I-Olean). "Our hearts and prayers go out to the victims, their families and neighbors as they deal with this unspeakable horror.
While this tragedy has sparked a debate on the national level about reinstating the expired federal Assault Weapons Ban, there already is a permanent assault weapons ban in New York state that has been in place since the year 2000 - some of the most restrictive gun laws in the country already are in effect in our state.
"The vast majority of gun crimes committed in New York are with illegal guns," continued Sen. Young. "Stronger enforcement of existing laws would curb gun violence. While there are many lawmakers, especially from downstate, who want to use this tragedy to push new laws that restrict responsible, law-abiding gun owners, I believe a common-sense, thoughtful and deliberate approach should be taken. A few of the ideas being discussed in Albany include passing stricter penalties for crimes involving guns, and establishing a uniform statewide registry for pistol permits to replace the current county-by-county registry. But simply focusing on guns is a mistake.
"The most important discussion that must happen is about treating mental illness," urged Sen. Young. "Too many people are not getting the help they need and are falling through the cracks. There are several contributing factors that are emerging about the massacre, but the murderer's mental state seems to be the overwhelming problem. Reports indicate that Adam Lanza had a severe mental disturbance. Untreated serious mental illness is the root cause of many of these heinous incidents, whether someone opens fire on a classroom or shopping mall, shoves a person in front of a subway train, or viciously stabs a victim. I sponsor legislation to strengthen Kendra's Law to protect the public and allow people with severe mental illness who are a danger to themselves or others to get the help they need, and I will be pushing to get this measure passed in 2013."
However, Sen. Young would like to see a more urgent focus on protecting school-age children, in general.
"We also must reprioritize school safety," said Sen. Young. "Our children and school personnel need to be kept safe. Federal Justice Department funds for school security programs such as training, security equipment and police resources have lapsed over the past two years. A separate program that put police officers inside schools was discontinued a few years earlier. These resources were established after the Columbine school shooting, and the federal government should restore those funds. Having police officers in our schools makes a big difference. For several years, many of our districts in the region were protected by school resource officers. These officers are specially trained law enforcement personnel who serve as positive role models, mentors and problem solvers, while making sure the school is a safe learning environment. School resource officers always have been a high priority for Senate Republicans. Unfortunately, state funding for school resource officers was eliminated by Gov. Paterson and the New York City-controlled legislators in 2009-10 when Senate Republicans were in the minority. I strongly support reinstating and expanding the school resource officer program, and believe school safety will be a major topic of discussion and action in Albany."
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