Panel of three discusses firearms at League of Women Voters luncheon

JAMESTOWN – An informational session on gun control took place at Moon Brook Country Club in Jamestown on Oct. 9. The League of Women Voters hosted the event, titled “The Gun: The What and the Who” with three guest speakers.

The panel included Sheriff Joe Gerace, Jack Glenzer (past county executive and chair of the Chautauqua County Republican Party), and Amanda Schwert-Walden (former instructor for the New York State Depart-ment of Environmental Conservation Hunter Training Safety Education program).

Much of the discussion revolved around the New York State Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement (SAFE) Act, which was passed in January in response to the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn., in December 2012.

Gerace said, “I’m a gun advocate. I believe strongly in the Second Amendment and the right to bare arms.”

He said of the legislation, “It was ramrodded down the throats of New York State residents. It was flawed.”

The act made it a Class D felony to load more than seven rounds into a magazine.

“Restricting it to seven rounds did nothing to make us safer,” Gerace said. He did say there are positive sides to the SAFE Act, but the “negative sides are numerous,” as it took effect before members of the public could voice their rebuttals.

“Restrictions were done without input and forethought (from the public)” he said, adding that law abiding citizens are experiencing the most negative impacts while those who intend to break the law will continue to do so with or without the SAFE Act.

Jack Glenzer said, “Those of us on either side (whether pro or anti-gun) are in agreement. We don’t want to see anyone hurt.”

Glenzer did say he was an advocate for gun ownership and said, “My approach is how these laws have impacted those of us who do obey the law.”

He added, “We are a country of laws. That doesn’t mean that if we continue to proliferate the number of (gun) laws, that the laws are good.”

Amanda Schwert-Walden approached the topic with, “I was raised in an atmosphere of hunting.” She has been familiar with firearms for over 30 years and is licensed to carry a concealed weapon in New York State.

She learned how to hunt from her father and grandfather.

“We found a great deal of comradery around that. However, the first focus was always on safety. There was always emphasis on safe gun-handling, first and foremost,” she said. “I’m very much in favor of regulations on certain kinds of guns today,” but did not specifically address the SAFE Act’s positives or negatives.

“It’s an emotional topic, obviously,” Schwert-Walden said.

A major concern for gun owners in New York is that mental health professionals must report the names of patients they believe are likely to hurt themselves or others. Many say this prevents people who desire medical help from seeking counseling due to the fear of their firearms being confiscated.

Gerace said, “We have to invest in our mental health system … It’s really in chaos.”

In regard to mass shootings and murderers like Navy Yard shooter Aaron Alexis ,who used a sawed-off shotgun to kill 12 people on Sept. 16 at a Naval Yard in Washington, D.C., Gerace said, “A lot of mass murder deals with mental health and not necessarily firearms.”

All three panelists stressed the importance of knowledge when it comes to purchasing a firearm.

“I would strongly recommend taking a gun safety class (If you’re looking to purchase a gun),” Gerace said. “They’ll demonstrate different models and calibers. Anyone who purchases a gun and can’t handle it properly shouldn’t buy that gun.”

He finished the session saying, “We can pass laws and enforce laws but we can’t dictate common sense. Some people just don’t have any.”