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New York State’s new gun law impacts 9/11 ceremony

New York state’s recent gun law changes impacted the Chautauqua County American Legion’s annual Sept. 11 terrorist attacks remembrance ceremony.

Commander Mattie McIntyre of the American Legion Post 434 said the American Legion Honor Guard was forced to perform a three-volley salute from across the street from the county courthouse at the Crosby Market due to new gun restrictions on public spaces passed by the state Legislature in July and signed into law shortly thereafter by Gov. Kathy Hochul.

“The recent laws signed into effect by the New York state governor now prevent any weapons, including ceremonial weapons, to be fired on public property,” McIntyre said. “Not only does this law affect ceremonies such as the 9/11 ceremony, but also will prevent Memorial Day ceremonies, and most importantly, military honors at the graveside of our veterans.”

State Assemblyman Andrew Goodell, R-Jamestown, described the ceremony as a “beautiful and fitting memorial service.” The ceremony was attended by veterans, county legislators, County Executive PJ Wendel and Goodell.

Wendel’s speech highlighted the direct impact 9/11 had on Chautauqua County, as Amy King of Celoron lost her life on one of the planes. He also reminded the crowd that many county residents traveled to New York City in the aftermath of the attack to help those in need.

Goodell explained the Freedom Tower, built after 9/11, stands as a “beacon” of the “resilience and determination and freedom” of America.

While local representatives honored the memory of the lives lost on 9/11, Goodell said the ceremony was significantly impacted by the state’s recent gun laws. Goodell said the American Legion pointed out at the beginning of the ceremony that the state’s new gun law designates public property as gun-free zones. As a result, the 21-gun salute could not be conducted outside the county courthouse. The coordinator explained the legion made arrangements prior to the event with the local gas station in order to perform the 21-gun salute from across the street.

“That travesty was repeated all across New York state,” Goodell said. “Can you imagine that? You cannot do a 21-gun salute in Memorial Park on Memorial Day or Lakeview Cemetery on Memorial Day.”

Goodell said the “rushed” nature of the legislation is the reason for the “unintended consequences” of the state’s new gun laws. He said the legislation was pushed through without public comment and without the chance for lawmakers to fully understand the implications of the law.

“To give you an idea how rushed this legislation was, the governor called us back in the special session on Thursday at noon, and the bill had not been printed,” he said. “We didn’t get a copy of the bill until (Sept. 9) at 11 a.m. The bill wasn’t even printed until a day later, and then we began debate on the bill that afternoon. It was passed in late afternoon, leaving absolutely no time whatsoever for any public input or evaluation.”

Goodell claims the new gun laws only target citizens who have a pistol permit, have been subjected to background checks and have no criminal record. He warned that the “ramifications” of the legislation far exceed the state’s intention to reduce gun violence. According to Goodell, the state’s problem with gun violence is not caused by law-abiding citizens with pistol permits and safety training.

“In fact, nationwide, less than one-10th of 1% of murders are caused by someone who has a pistol permit,” he said. “You are more likely to die in a bicycle accident than at the hands of somebody who has a pistol permanent.”

Goodell explained that during the debate on the bill, when a lawmaker asked the bill’s sponsor for any data concerning people killed by a citizen with a valid pistol permit in the state, no information could be found. Additionally, he said there is no evidence of anyone in the state being injured or killed by veterans performing a 21-gun salute at a Memorial Day, 9/11 ceremony, or funeral event. According to the assemblyman, the new gun laws reflect the same problems caused by the “middle of the night” passage of the SAFE Act in 2013. He recalled the incident that occurred after the bill was enacted which required lawmakers to quickly amend the law after it was discovered the law had banned the pistols used by state troopers and law enforcement organizations throughout the state.

“This is why laws should be carefully evaluated,” Goodell said. “We should seek public input and comment. We should act in a careful, thoughtful manner, and we should not pass legislation in a knee-jerk reaction to address a non-existent problem, namely the improper use of a pistol by licensed pistol holders. It’s virtually a non-existent issue.”

In addition to the Legion’s concern of how the gun laws impact 21-gun salutes honoring America’s heroes, Goodell said the laws are also concerning for churches. Under state law, pistol permit holders are no longer allowed to carry guns in churches, leading local churches to question how they would be able to respond to a potential shooting situation.

“Under this law, if any of those licensed pistol permit holders took out a gun and stopped the slaughter they would be arrested for a felony,” he said. “That’s how you turn heroes into felons.”

The assemblyman said he has already been contacted by local churches concerned with the implications of the state’s recent law. The new gun law also bans guns in public places such as libraries, museums and zoos. Goodell said shootings have not historically been a problem in any of those locations. The law also restricts high school trap and shooting programs, which Goodell believes could be detrimental to the next generation learning how to safely and accurately handle guns. He believes lawmakers should hold criminals accountable for illegally using guns, rather than pass laws limiting the use of guns by pistol permit users and law-abiding citizens.

Goodell explained that both he and state Sen. George Borrello, R-Sunset Bay, are leading efforts to amend the state’s law. A bill has already been introduced to limit the restrictions of the state’s gun laws. On the other hand, Goodell believes a large portion of the state’s gun law will be declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.

“I think this law will go to the Supreme Court and I think the vast majority of the law will be thrown out,” he said. “It’s patently, clearly, obviously and maybe even intentionally unconstitutional.”

Goodell and Borrello have introduced legislation to restore judicial discretion of bail for criminal actions. The Republican lawmakers argue reforming the state’s criminal justice process could be more effective than the recent gun law.

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