State gun legislation sparks heated debate at town hall

State gun legislation sparks heated debate at town hall
Photo by Karen Frantz
By Karen Frantz

A town hall meeting at the Museum of the Moving Image grew heated last Thursday when community members lobbed pointed questions at two Queens state legislators over controversial gun legislation they voted to pass in January.

“How are restrictions on law-abiding citizens going to affect criminals?” demanded one man who said he was a registered Democrat and had served in the U.S. military but had never fired his gun.

State Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria) defended the law, which tightens a state ban on assault weapons and ammunition clips and requires people to register their guns, among other reforms.

He said the country is reeling from mass shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.; a movie theater in Aurora, Colo.; and a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wis., and that reforms were needed to help keep guns out of the hands of people intent on doing harm.

“We’ve always had regulations, we’re always going to have regulations and what we’re talking about is where we draw the line on what the regulations are,” Gianaris said. “There is no slippery slope concern to me, I don’t believe the government’s going to try and come to your house, knock your door down and steal your guns if you’re entitled to have them.”

But the questioner pushed back, arguing that the bill only affects people who already owns guns legally and does little to prevent guns from falling into the hands of criminals.

Another critic of the gun legislation argued that a ban on guns that have plastic and rubber grips was arbitrary.

“It doesn’t change the functionality of the weapon, it doesn’t change the rate of fire, it doesn’t change anything. It just makes it look scary,” he contended.

But Gianaris and state Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas (D-Astoria) held firm in their support for the gun bill.

“Every illegal gun was once a legal gun, and that’s what we have to think about,” Simotas said. “This legislation was good legislation that we have a sincere belief will actually stop the scourge of gun violence in this country and in the state.”

The topic of guns was one of several discussed at the town hall, held at the museum, at 36-01 35th Ave. in Astoria.

One woman said she had been hit by soccer balls in Athens Square Park many times and feared for her safety there, and a representative with the city Parks Department told her soccer playing is not permitted in the park and he would look into the issue.

Another man complained about new city Muni-Meters in the city, saying they did not always work and can sometimes be a hike from where a person parks his or her car.

And Community Board 1 member Rudolfo Sarchese voiced support for the police practice of stop-and-frisk. He said he feared restrictions on the practice would spur an increase in crime.

Moderator Rose Marie Poveromo pitched the question to Stephen Cirabisi, police commander for the 114th Precinct.

“His question is more a question for the elected officials,” he started to say.

“Wow, did you tap dance on that,” Poveromo interrupted, prompting laughter from the audience.

Cirabisi went on to say that stop-and-frisk has proven to be successful in reducing crime.

Simotas’ office estimated more than 100 people attended the town hall, which also drew Sen. Jose Peralta (D-East Elmhurst), representatives from City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer’s (D-Sunnyside) staff and a number of city, state and federal agencies.

Reach reporter Karen Frantz by e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at 718-260-4538.