By Naeisha Rose
U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-Jackson Heights) held a town hall at East Elmhurst Community Library Saturday where community members raised their concerns about gun reform in Congress.
Following the Feb. 14 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla, the national gun debate has been at the forefront. Seventeen people — 14 teenagers and three adults — were killed and 17 more were wounded during the shooting by a former student. Surviving students took to social media and challenged lawmakers on gun reform, eventually organizing the March 24 rally “March for our Lives” in support of stricter gun control in Washington, D.C., as well as sister rallies in major cities across the country.
About 50 attendees at the 95-06 Astoria Blvd. library event discussed mental health, annual inspections and access to guns, among other topics.
One attendee said she was frustrated with the focus on mental health, which she called a popular way to divert attention from the real issue of there being too many guns available.
“Mental health is so far from being understood,” she told Crowley. “If we deflect our interest from trying to stop the sale of dangerous assault weapons to this psychological issue, we’re going to just going to get boggled down.”
Crowley agreed, but said better understanding of mental health issues is necessary in general. He said that in the meantime, the only safe way to prevent people with mental health problems from getting their hands on guns is by making it harder for everyone to get one.
“When we look at these shootings we look at motive, what drives someone to do something, ” he said. “Is it criminal intent to rob someone as opposed to someone who walks in randomly to shoot everyone in front of them because of angst? We don’t know what is driving that. What I’m suggesting is putting that aside and reducing access to weapons to everyone, which reduces the ability of someone who has that cognitive problem to also not get a weapon to do what they want to do.”
Another attendee suggested that the gun control issue could be moved along if there were annual inspections.
“If you do have a gun nut who has some weird plan, he is not going to bring his gun to an annual inspection,” he said. “If you have to bring your car to an annual inspection, you should be able to bring your gun to be inspected, too.”
He also suggested a law that encourages whistleblowing without fear of retaliation.
“There is a problem where sometimes if people see something, people don’t say something, whether it’s because someone is afraid of getting fired or getting sued,” he said. “So I think we have to have reform on that so people aren’t afraid.”
Crowley said that he made some provocative but reasonable points.
“There needs to be a way in terms of the right of individuals,” Crowley said. “Whistleblower laws or Good Samaritan laws, there is a balance we have to find. There has to be appropriate chains that people can work through in place of employment where things will be kept confidential.”
Crowley said that he believes the broader gun issue is about easy access. He mentioned U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly (D), who represents the south side of Chicago. She has been vocal about the high rate of gun violence that affects mostly blacks and Latinos in her state and other urban areas. Crowley said one thing that frustrates him is that certain kinds of gun violence seem to be ignored, but he said it’s all part of the access issue, particularly in cases involving handguns.
Crowley said New York City has the same problem with gun violence, though not at the same rate as Chicago, and people need to understand mass shootings are not the only kind of gun violence that hurts Americans.
Reach Gina Martinez by e-mail at gmart