Astorino pledges to veto ban on gun shows

By Bill Heltzel

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Westchester legislators on Monday banned gun shows on county property, but County Executive Robert Astorino has pledged to veto the measure.

“The use of county-owned facilities to host shows which promote weapons, as well as other symbols of violence and hatred, is not what we as a county should be doing,” said legislator Ken Jenkins of Yonkers, who first proposed the ban in 2010.

“We don’t see anything wrong with gun shows,” Astorino spokesman Phil Oliva said a few hours before the vote.

He said gun shows allow residents to express their First Amendment right to assembly and 2nd Amendment right to bear arms.

The ban passed by a 9-8 vote.

The board of legislators also agreed to hold a public hearing on a Republican-sponsored law that would require gun show operators at any venue in the county to follow stringent safety procedures.

The Democrats’ ban was prompted by the Gun and Knife Show, scheduled for Jan. 21-22 at the Westchester County Center, the first gun show to be held on county property since 2012.

Astorino had pledged not to allow gun shows, Democratic legislators said, and they were caught by surprise when they heard about the January show.

Former County Executive Andrew Spano had banned gun shows as a matter of policy, after two teenagers killed 12 students and a teacher at Columbine High School in Colorado in 1999.

Astorino rescinded that policy in 2010, but shifted his position after the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School, where 20 children and six adults were killed.

“We had a handshake agreement not to bring back gun shows after Newtown, Michael Kaplowitz, chairman of the board of legislators said Monday about an arrangement he had with Astorino.

He said the administration brought back the show “surreptitiously,” by not posting the event on the county website.

Oliva said Astorino never agreed to a permanent ban.

“It was a pause or a postponement because of Sandy Hook.”

He said the public has been well aware of the gun show for more than a month because it has been advertised on the County Center marquee.

Democratic legislators cited research that links gun shows to illegal activities. The events, they said, can attract people who make transactions outside of the venue to avoid criminal background checks. Or some licensed dealers at shows sell weapons to “straw buyers,” people who fill out the paperwork and submit to a criminal background checks but who are not the actual buyers.

He said Astorino favors the Republican proposal to implement gun show procedures based on a model advocated by the state attorney general. It requires show operators and vendors to track weapons, enforce criminal background checks and confine transactions to inside the building.

The public hearing is scheduled for 7 p.m. Jan. 24, two days after the gun and knife show.

The county has been working with the show operator, NorthEast Gun Shows of Mahopac Falls, for a year to find a suitable date. NorthEast, which also operates as Westchester Collectors, ran its first gun show in 1984 at the Westchester County Center. Now it operates 22 shows a year, mostly in New England.

Newman Chittenden, the CEO, said he knows of no gun violence linked to firearms sold at his shows in 32 years and there is no reliable evidence of problems linked to gun shows in general. Why is there such a negative attitude about gun shows, he asked.

“There is only one answer. They are afraid of guns. They are afraid of gun owners. It’s just fear, and that’s no basis for making laws.”

He said he expects a “huge amount of people” to turn out for the show.

“A gun show simply must not be held on government property, period,” U.S. Rep. Nita Lowey said at a press conference on Monday in support of the ban.

“I’m tired of saying our thoughts and prayers are with you,” to families touched by gun violence victims. “We have to take action now.”

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About the author

Bill Heltzel
Bill Heltzel has covered criminal justice, courts, government and sports – as a beat reporter and investigative reporter – for daily newspapers in Florida, Indiana, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. He worked for Bloomberg LP in training and sales. He joined The Business Journal in 2016.

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