Thursday, April 18, 2019

Summer camp becomes victim of New York’s gun safety bill

Having been a Boy Scout, camp counselor and volunteer for the past 30 years, I can attest that the shooting sports program is one of the most popular – and most important – aspects of summer camp.

For more than a half-century, boys have been thrilled to use the rifle range at Camp Dittmer, the Finger Lakes-based property that serves the Boy Scouts of our local Iroquois Trail Council. Being able to learn about and use firearms is not only a highlight of their summer, something they look forward to all winter, but it’s also a highlight of their lives as it provides respectful exposure to an interest they will carry with them forever.

Because of the seed planted at our shooting range they later pursued involvement in: shooting sports clubs, giving them a competitive outlet at their schools or conservation clubs; hunting, which has helped them put food on the table for their families; and public service, which has seen them protect our citizens through law enforcement or the military.

Knowing that impact, the shooting sports are not something taken lightly at the Council. They‘ve made sure the facilities are well-equipped and well-fortified.

Through the years the Council has invested in the best rifles and shotguns and have secured donations of the same from organizations like the Safari Club. The scouts use .22-calibre rifles, black powder guns, and shotguns of various gauges. 

Just last year, local scouters oversaw the construction of a new shotgun range at Camp Dittmer, the outcome of an idea and sizable gift from an Orleans County benefactor who knows the magic of camp. The facility became a reality because of him and dozens more donors who chipped in after WHAM’s Bob Lonsberry graciously gave me airtime to talk about the campaign.

The new facility was a $14,000 investment that will pay huge dividends in the boys’ lives...that is, if they can use it.

The days might be numbered for most scouts to earn the rifle shooting merit badge thanks to a threat from legislation that has passed the Senate and Assembly and is now awaiting the Governor’s signature.

You likely saw television news stories or read newspaper reports about A02686A /S02450A, an alleged response to school shootings that amends provisions relating to requirements for storage of firearms. It requires gun owners to lock their guns away when minors are in the home or in their presence unless the child is at least 16 years of age or possesses a hunting permit.

Much has been written on editorial pages or talked about on radio about the flaws of the bill, primarily how it inhibits the ability of homeowners to have immediate access to their firearms if they have to defend themselves -- usually predators don’t give victims time to go get their guns and unlock them. 

One thing that has been mostly overlooked is the impact the nuanced language of the law will have on Camp Dittmer, every other camp in the state, and shooting organizations like the sporting clay club recently started by Albion High School.

Last week, in a letter to the editor of the Watertown Daily Times, Lewis County Sheriff Michael Carpinelli wrote, “…the law prohibits the owner of a firearm from knowingly allowing any person younger than 16 to have access to their firearms unless the firearm is in their “immediate possession or control” outside of the home, unless said youth has a hunting license and is hunting. The only way for a loaded firearm to be in the “immediate possession or control” of the owner is to be within arm’s reach at all times.”

The good sheriff continued, ”this bill will effectively outlaw all youth shooting activities, competitions and training for those individuals younger than 16 who are not hunting.”

If his assessment is correct – and it should be; he is, after all, a lawman – then what happens at summer camps and every other youth-focused shooting event will not be allowed -- that is, a certified riflery instructor and assistant overseeing up to 10 kids at a time at a range. There is no direct one-on-one for each shooter; it’s done in a well-organized group setting.

This would destroy the summer camp experience for local boys. At the age of 16 most age out of Scouting; as the adage goes, they succumb to fumes – car fumes and perfumes. Almost all attending Dittmer are ages 12 to 15. None of them would be allowed to utilize the shooting range unless they had a hunting license, which many scouts don’t – the whole point of our facility is to get them interested.  

If this bill is signed by Andrew Cuomo, 2019 might be the last summer that various camps like ours can offer shooting sports without otherwise adding significant manpower and, in turn, a very significant cost to the campers’ families (which won’t fly in the stressed upstate economy). A02686A /S02450A has the very real potential to deny countless young men a critical part of the summer camp – and life -- experience.

From the 22 April 2019 Greater Niagara Newspapers and Batavia Daily News

Friday, April 12, 2019

Bad gun owners give the good guys a bad name

Some of my fellow gun owners need to understand that not everyone digs our rights and interests. So, we need to represent the Second Amendment with the utmost respect at all times and ensure that others are doing the same or, one day, we might no longer enjoy those freedoms. 

I was reminded of this last week when I saw two things that left me shaking my head in disgust.

First, on one of my commutes, I saw something that I had a few times before that I’m sure you are familiar with, too: the vinyl stickers on vehicles’ back windows that say “(f-word expletive) Cuomo” with what are, in the common vernacular, assault rifles in place of the letters F and K.

The stickers play perfectly to the tropes of the far left -- that gun owners are akin to savages.

Not only are those labels using language you wouldn’t use in front of a child or in public – I hope – they also use imagery of much-maligned AR15s that feed the negative assault rifle narrative and, at the same time, encourage aggression towards the state’s chief executive.

If you don’t agree with him on the issues, fine. I don’t either. That’s been well-documented in this column. But, if you’re going to make a case against the SAFE Act, red flag bills, gun raffle legislation, and more you need to be reasonable about it. Don’t foment hate and violence by association or advance misguided stereotypes.

If you want to win someone to our side and hopefully enlighten them on gun ownership and what it means for putting food on the table and/or protecting family and friends, then do so in a reasonable fashion that shows the virtues and values to the uninitiated.

“F Cuomo” stickers serve only to drive away those in the middle who are unsure of the Second Amendment while making sure the hardcore anti-gunners keep their distance from looking for even some common ground.

The labels do nothing to advance our cause and neither does what I saw while hiking the Feeder Road trail in the Iroquois Wildlife Refuge.

Far back on the trail, overlooking one of the large pools, was a handful of empty beer cans right next to spent shotgun shells. Based on the location and the type of shell they were left by waterfowl hunters.

Drinking while using firearms is stupid.

Polluting while enjoying the outdoors is stupid.

If I think those behaviors are stupid, imagine how stupid an anti-hunter perceives them. Likely, with the swamps being a haven for birdwatchers, there are many such people who walked that trail and saw the mess. It’s bad enough to them that someone is harvesting wildlife, but they’re also doing so unsafely and dirtily.

Those hunters didn’t win any brownie points with those already possessing negative notions about animal harvest.  

That shouldn’t be overlooked by other hunters. Repeat offenses can create a large enough cry that certain trails and bodies of water on those public lands could see hunting prohibited. No matter the finer nuances of hunting and the nutrition it provides, it’s hard to win over people who’ve been grossly offended by bad actors.   

Those who do own guns and those who hunt know that Bumper Sticker Guy and the Drinking Duck Hunter are very small minorities of the brotherhood and sisterhood of firearms users. The anti-gun and anti-hunt folks should understand that, too.

The vast majority of gun owners and hunters maintain and use their equipment safely and with respect and harvest wild game with care. We’re everywhere, too – close to 15 percent of Niagara County residents are registered handgun owners and many more own rifles and shotguns. Literally tens of thousands of us within the county are armed and in many ways. We aren’t practicing boorish behavior -- we’re behaving so well that we haven’t offended others with our guns and many don’t even know we have firearms. We are the rule, not the exception to it.

My challenge to gun owners is simple. If you associate with or know someone with an “F Cuomo” label, encourage him to take it off immediately. If you are Facebook friends with alleged Second Amendment advocates who share equally ugly memes online, stop them. If you know of unsafe hunters, reform them immediately or call a game warden.

Left unchecked these people are our own worst enemies. They claim to care about gun ownership yet do just about everything in their power to get others to not care for it. Aiding in the promotion of negative stereotypes feeds the other side and the rules they want imposed.

We gun owners are unique in that we represent our passions and rights 24/7. What we do or don’t do can have long-lasting effects on communities and the environment. That said, we must treat all that we do and all whom we interact with on the Second Amendment with class and dignity. If we don’t and allow a few bad seeds to make the good guys look rotten then we will see our rights continually eroded, something we know too well in the Empire State.

From the 15 April 2019 Greater Niagara Newspapers and Batavia Daily News    

Friday, April 5, 2019

Getting paid to vote: Fighting bad citizenship with even worse citizenship

With the moniker of “Empire State” New York should be a leader.

We’re definitely not when it comes to voter participation.

Looking only at the gubernatorial elections since the mid-1970s, citizen engagement been in seriously steep decline. In the 1974 election, 75 percent of eligible New York voters went to the polls. By 1986, that number dropped to 55 percent. It lingered around 40 percent during the 2002, 2006, and 2010 campaigns before hitting rock bottom in 2014 with less than a third of all New Yorkers taking part.

It’s embarrassing.

It’s bad citizenship.

This year, turning that around became a serious goal of Governor Cuomo and the State Legislature.

To encourage greater participation they passed some excellent legislation, including excuse-free absentee voting and early voting, both of which this writer supported in a column earlier this year.

They’ve also passed some horrible standards, including a real gem that was hidden in the bowels of last week’s state budget which saw a transformation of the language of Section 1, Section 3-110 of state election law.

In the original version employers did not have to allow employees time off to vote if the polls were available 4 consecutive hours either before or after the shift. It was a common sense standard that protected the voting rights of workers who might have incredibly long shifts (like doctors, nurses and farm workers) and it encouraged workers on standard part- and full-time shifts to vote on their own time, as they would with any activity related to their personal liberty.   

Last week’s change saw that 4-hour standard scrapped entirely.

Now, even if an employee has a quartet of hours or more to vote outside of work, the employer is required to grant that person up to 3 hours of leave during working hours, either at the beginning or end of the shift, to go to the polls as long as that individual requests it no less than two days before Election Day. He doesn’t have to show he has or doesn’t have plenty of time outside of work. Employers have to honor every request, no questions asked before or after: There is nothing in the bill that requires the employee to present proof of their having voted nor has the state put a mechanism in place for polling stations to produce that for voters.   

It doesn’t end there.

The employer is also required to pay that person full wages for the time off that is “needed” for them to vote. So, even if the employee has all the time in the world to vote off the clock, they don’t have to and can get paid for it.

This standard applies to not only what many people believe to be “the” Election Day in November, but it also holds true for any election – village elections in March, presidential nominating primaries in April, school board elections in May, and primaries in June.

Employers can’t shirk or hide their duty, either, as they have to post in a conspicuous location their statement or policy reinforcing the state’s law no less than 10 working days before the election where it will remain until polls close.  

While this is, allegedly, a step the state is taking to inspire good citizenship, it does nothing but inspire bad citizenship.

Voter participation is low and has been low for a reason. A lot of people just don’t care. If during one’s ample personal time -- which for most workers is two-thirds or more of an entire day – he couldn’t find or make the time to vote, then he really doesn’t care enough about the direction of his community, school, state, or nation. He’s either complacent or he was never properly educated on his civic duties by his parents or schools.  

But, if now, if all sorts of voters like him come out of the woodwork to vote because it’s time away from work and 3 hours of free pay, there is nothing good that can come out of it. They won’t be voting for love of country, they’ll be voting for love of money and, at the same time, sticking it to their bosses and coworkers.  

That’s not the sort of person we want or deserve at the polls. Some races are so tight just a few votes can make a difference. Do we really want completely disinterested and ignorant people choosing our mayors, council members, and senators just so they can get participation points and nearly a half day of pay?


Our republic wasn’t made by that. It was made by people who actually cared about it.     

Sure, everyone has a right to vote – and deserves that right -- but the magic of America is that it’s not a requirement to vote. If someone cares enough, if someone researches the issues enough, they will go to the polls. They don’t need to be incentivized to vote….nor should they be.

From the 08 April 2019 Greater Niagara Newspapers and Batavia Daily News