Gun Safety in Otsego County

Gun Safety in Otsego County

Second Amendment Sanctuary: What it would really mean for our county

The proliferation of guns in the United States has lead to one of the most pronounced public health and safety challenges of our time. In response to a petition calling for a second amendment sanctuary ordinance in Otsego County, the LWV of the Cooperstown Area and the LWV of the Oneonta Area are organizing a Zoom webinar to provide an informed perspective on what a secong amendment sanctuary ordinance would mean for Otsego County residents. These articles by Julie Sorensen, co-president of the LWV of the Cooperstown Area, and Steve Londner, a member of the LWV Oneonta steering committee, highlight some of the concerns that will be discussed during the event, which is planned for September.

SAFE Act Keeps All Citizens, Including Gun Owners, Safe

By Julie Sorensen

As covered in the news over the past few months, a local initiative has been launched to make Otsego County a second amendment sanctuary [SAS]. The focus of the initiative is to subvert state gun control measures, such as those mandated by the NY SAFE act, enacted in 2013. The group has gathered over 3,000 signatures and Representative Brockway, representing District #3 (Laurens and Otego townships) has agreed to sponsor the bill, which may be introduced to the Board as early as the first week of September.

This movement is problematic for several reasons. First, even if a Second Amendment Sanctuary ordinance were passed by the board, it would not would not override state law. The NY Safe Act has been upheld in federal court and, despite the group's claims, is not a violation of law-abiding gun owners Second Amendment constitutional rights. It would, however, make local law enforcement difficult, if not dangerous, for police officers faced with having to figure out which laws to enforce or not enforce.
Second, gun injury research has repeatedly demonstrated that states with strong, sensible gun safety laws have lower gun death and injury rates than states with weak gun laws. In fact, New York has some of the most effective gun laws in the country and as of 2017, had the third-lowest gun death rate in the country and the second-lowest crime gun export rate. Louisiana, in comparison, does not require background checks, ammunition is not regulated, and assault weapons can be freely purchased and transferred. Louisiana has the 4th highest gun death rate in the country.

Moreover, nationally, more than 36,000 Americans are killed every year by guns in the United States. For teens and young adults (15- to 24-year-olds), our mortality rate from guns is nearly 50 times higher than the average of the world's other high-income nations. In fact, on a full global basis, ninety percent of all gun-related deaths in this age group occur in the U.S.. Clearly the epidemic of gun violence in America has already touched many lives and has the potential to negatively impact many more if we choose to ignore the evidence before us.

The League of Women Voters of the Cooperstown Area (LWVCA), has consistently advocated for laws that are data-driven. The League has also been active in efforts to address the unacceptably high rates of gun related deaths and injury. At the same time, the League has always supported the preservation of constitutional rights for responsible gun owners. In order to provide local citizens with information on the SAFE Act and the potential legal and public health ramifications of a SAS, the LWVCA and the League of Women Voters of Oneonta are organizing a virtual Zoom webinar in September.

For Otsego County—Gun Sanctuary or Suicide Prevention

by Steve Londner, member of the steering committee of the LWV of the Oneonta Area

The League of Women Voters (LWV) has long understood that the proliferation of handguns and semiautomatic 'assault' long guns poses a major threat to public health and safety. Since the 1990's, the LWV has worked in support of common-sense regulation of firearms within New York State and across our nation.

Poll after poll shows that the majority of Americans agree. In fact, the percentage who favor stricter gun laws is on the rise. A Pew Research Center survey last September found that 60% of Americans believe our gun laws should be tightened, up from 52% in 2017. But obviously, sharp-edged partisan divisions persist, both nationally and locally.

Since January, in Otsego County there has been a local petition drive by activists calling for our County Board of Representatives to declare ourselves a Second Amendment Sanctuary (SAS). This is part of a broad informal movement, in New York and nationally.

Exactly what is being sought by these local ad hoc movements can be hard to pin down. Many go much farther than seeking to roll back existing gun-safety laws they believe infringe their rights. Some seek to formally empower like-minded public safety officials to disregard and not enforce current gun-safety laws -- calling for these single individuals to be authorized to decide which laws overstep the group's own hard-line interpretation of our Second Amendment rights.
Exactly what Otsego County's SAS petitioners are seeking is as yet unknown. But we will know soon. They are expected to present their petitions to the Otsego County Board of Representatives in the near future.

Our League will be there too, to speak out against this. We see any possible resolution or declaration by our County Board on this matter as very problematic. Our communities and local public safety forces themselves would become less safe -- if those charged with enforcing our laws and protecting us must contend with conflicting direction from local and state authorities. Further, media coverage could scar our county's public image, damaging tourism, higher education and health services, key industries already suffering from the COVID-19 pandemic.

To help people find the facts and their voices on this issue, the LWVs of the Oneonta and Cooperstown areas will soon announce an online panel discussion, open to the public, to present information on gun violence in our communities and current successes and challenges in addressing it. We feel this is sorely needed, because while there is plenty of passion on all sides of the debates about gun safety, facts are in short supply. This is no accident.

In 1993, a study funded by the Centers for Disease Control documented the links between gun ownership in the home and the risk of death of a family member or friend. Pressured by the NRA and the firearms industry, Congress tacked an amendment onto a major spending bill that effectively cut off all federal funding of research on gun policy for 25 years.

Fortunately, this important fact-finding work continued with private support. And the facts are as clear now as they were then. While school shootings and other mass shootings shock us, and demand action, the much larger societal toll from guns, then as now, is suicides. UC Davis Health reported that in 2018 there were 24,432 firearm suicides nationwide. These outnumbered all gun-related homicides, 7 to 4. Let that sink in.

This June, the New England Journal of Medicine published the results of a massive study that followed more than 26 million Californian adults over 12 years. ( It documented that having a gun in the home makes it much more likely that a temporary moment of personal crisis will become a permanent family tragedy. Fourteen percent of all recorded adult firearm suicides occurred in the first month after an initial firearm purchase.

For minors who attempted suicide with a gun, 82 percent used a firearm belonging to a family member and 64 percent of those guns were unlocked. Overall, men who owned handguns had a suicide rate more than three times that of male non-owners. (The rates for women were statistically the same.) Importantly, the study noted that suicide rates by other means was the same for gun owners and non-owners.

Fortunately, and perhaps surprisingly, New York is among the states with low overall population death rates by firearms. But in our rural areas, more than half of all suicides are by guns.
Could this be a starting place for actual dialog? Gun owners and dealers, and their organizations, need to be a part of the solution. If we can find a way to work together we can reduce the tragic number of gun suicides... and, hopefully, find a path towards real progress on the broader issues.


The article was published on August 22, 2020, in the Oneonta Daily Star under the headline
Guest Commentary: 'Second Amendment Sanctuaries' are a distraction from real gun law progress