Zeldin responds to gun control and schools talk safety
Protesters gather in front of Lee Zeldin’s Patchgoue office last week.

ADV/Allegrezza

Zeldin responds to gun control and schools talk safety

Story By: NICOLE ALLEGREZZA
3/1/2018


 

It has been almost two weeks since the mass shooting occurred on Valentine’s Day, at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. Seventeen people were killed and 15 more were wounded, making it the fifth-deadliest school massacre in United States history. The alleged shooter, Nikolas Cruz, 19, was arrested shortly afterwards. 

Anti-gun protesters gathered by the dozens in front of Congressman Lee Zeldin’s office on Feb. 20 holding signs and chanting, “Hey, hey, NRA, how may kids will you kill today?”

Eileen Duffy, founder of Let’s Visit Lee Zeldin, which was among the groups at the protest, said they have been protesting against Zeldin, including issues with gun control policies, but their ultimate goal is to force him out of office.

“Basically, we bring awareness to all the positions he takes that we disagree with,” she said. “He has an A-plus rating with the NRA and continues to accept money ever since he became a candidate. He also came out saying he is OK with arming teachers and is a co-sponsor of the Concealed Carry Act and voted to take away mental health background checks necessary to get a gun. He is 100 percent behind the NRA and will co-sponsor any legislation they want.”

Zeldin (R-NY-1) issued a statement a few days after the shooting, calling for a congressional hearing on the state of gun violence in this country.

“This tragedy could have and should have been prevented,” Zeldin wrote. “The warning signs were there and clearly pointed to the fact this young man was extremely troubled. In light of this tragedy, it is crucial Congress, law enforcement and the American public identify how Nikolas Cruz slipped through the cracks. We must prevent another such breakdown. I support law-abiding citizens having the ability to possess firearms to protect themselves, their families, their loved ones and property. However, we must ensure lunatics manifesting violent criminal intentions to murder with firearms have access to none.”

Last year, Zeldin co-sponsored legislation that allows gun owners to carry concealed weapons across state lines, in 2015 he co-sponsored legislation that allows the interstate transportation of firearms in a locked container regardless of state or local laws, and numerous reports have been published recently stating that Zeldin has taken donations and has received an A rating from the NRA. The numbers vary, but a common theme is that he is the largest recipient of pro-gun funds in the state of New York. When asked about these allegations, the congressman told the Long Island Advance that people on both sides of the gun issue have supported his campaigns. “I am my own man and I make decisions based on my own beliefs,” he said, adding that the published figures are exaggerated because, after crunching the numbers for both the 2015-16 and 2013-14 elections cycles, the donations add up to below $15,000.

In response to the legislation he sponsored, he said he stands by his decisions and believes law-abiding citizens should have those rights, however, he said he feels there needs to be better background checks to prevent the purchase by someone who should not be able to acquire a firearm, illegal purchases need to prosecuted, and the mental health system needs to be improved.

When asked if he supports an assault weapons ban, he said it depends on the definition of assault rifle, which also needs to be addressed. “Many people advocating for banning assault rifles don’t realize their definition is already illegal. You can add a single feature, but it might not necessarily make it any more lethal. It is good to talk to each other and see where that line is and solve the issue on a common ground,” he explained.

School districts, he said, need to take a deeper look at their security measures, but said he is proud of the measures local districts have already been taking. He also said he supports arming teachers, but only those who are interested in “safely” and “skillfully” possessing a firearm. “I would never want to see a firearm in the possession of someone who doesn’t want it or won’t operate it skillfully,” he added.

Schools throughout the county have also been detailing their plans to keep students and faculty members safe from potential incidents like these in the future.

Patchogue-Medford superintendent Dr. Michael Hynes, along with the president of the Pat-Med Congress of Teachers, Beth Warnken, and the president of the Pat-Med Administrators Association, Erin Skahill, spoke up just days after the incident with a video posted to the school district’s website.

Hynes indicated that the top priority of the district is safety and to do so with a united message. “We want to make it crystal clear. It is imperative our children are not only protected but, most importantly, safe,” he said. “We do not believe the answer to what has happened not only in Florida but across America in the last several years is administration and teachers carrying firearms in schools.”

As a building principal, Warnken said, “It is our most important responsibility to keep students and staff safe. What we need to do and what we do already is arm our teachers with the tools to support the social, emotional and academic needs of our students. We also practice emergency response drills. Arming our teachers is not the answer.”

Warnken continued by agreeing but also mentioning the need to focus on common-sense gun laws by asking our local officials to make the safety of our students, faculty and staff a top priority. 

Hynes also indicated that the root of the problem is the mental-health crisis that clearly needs to be focused on within our schools. He said school districts need the support of outside agencies and government to address those issues.

All Pat-Med visitors, according to Hynes, are buzzed into buildings, IDs are checked and security guards are present, all of whom are off-duty or retired police officers. There are also roving security guards in vehicles throughout the day. The district has also installed security cameras, posted help hotlines in schools, updated and posted their safety plan, and purchased radios and installed strobe lights. 

Superintendent of South Country Schools Dr. Joseph Giani said since the incident in Florida, “we have heightened safety, particularly at our secondary schools,” and during the next school board meeting on March 7 they will be reviewing all building protocols and giving the community a safety presentation.

Currently, South Country has responders and guards at every building checking people in and out through their Scholar Chip program, scanning identification. At the high school, all students are checked in and out with IDs and currently, he explained, they are working on adding that feature at both the middle school and Frank P. Long. In addition, the high school has a security vestibule that all visitors must enter and be checked in before having access to the school. Vestibules are also being installed at Frank P. Long and the middle school, awaiting approvals. Lastly, he said, lockdown drills are performed as well as threat assessments by a threat assessment team — which includes an administrator, guidance counselor, social worker, teacher and responder — upon a threat or perceived threat. Once a threat is assessed, whether founded or unfounded, police are called and home visits are scheduled. Security cameras also adorn all buildings on the exterior, and interior common areas and halls. 

William Floyd superintendent Kevin Coster also released a statement. He said William Floyd’s main focus is to keep students and staff safe on a daily basis. The security team, he explained, remains vigilant patrolling perimeters of the schools and staffing guard booths. He also said as protocol, all schools remain on lockout and parents/visitors are required to check in with security with identification before entering. All schools also have a vestibule with an additional door that remains locked at all times to provide an extra layer of security in addition to mandatory lockdown drills.

He also suggested parents and students speak up if they see something out of the ordinary. Students should tell a parent, teacher or administrator immediately and parents should always call 911 in case of an emergency.

Bayport-Blue Point superintendent Timothy Hearney said the district would be adding security personnel following February recess. He also said that as part of their community bond project, security vestibules will be installed in each school. 

Hearney also included a report entitled, “Talking to Children About Violence: Tips for Parents and Teachers” from the National Association of School Psychologists. The piece encourages parents and school personnel to reassure children they are safe, keep their explanations “developmentally appropriate,” review safety procedures, and observe children’s emotional states. It also suggests limiting children’s television viewing of such events and maintaining a normal routine.

Students are now taking it upon themselves to get involved in the national debate regarding guns and school safety. Two events have been planned: the National School Walkout on March 14 and the March for Our Lives on March 24, where participants will take to the streets of Washington, D.C. in the hopes of raising awareness about gun violence and school shootings. 

Anthony Perrotta contributed to this story

NY SAFE ACT

The New York Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act of 2013, commonly known as the NY SAFE Act, is a gun regulation law in the state of New York. The law was passed by the New York State Legislature and was signed into law by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in January 2013. The legislation was written in response to the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn. 

Cuomo described the law as the toughest gun control law in the United States, “The SAFE Act stops criminals and the dangerously mentally ill from buying a gun by requiring universal background checks on gun purchases, increases penalties for people who use illegal guns, mandates life in prison without parole for anyone who murders a first responder, and imposes the toughest assault weapons ban in the country. For hunters, sportsmen and law-abiding gun owners, this new law preserves and protects your right to buy, sell, keep or use your guns.”

It expanded the definition of prohibited assault weapons, prohibiting semi-automatics with one or more military-like features including folding stock, second grip, bayonet mount, flash suppressor. It also grandfathered current assault weapon owners, but only if they registered their guns with the State Police by April 15, 2014. A registered owner could then keep the gun for life, but could not sell, bequeath or otherwise transfer it to a New York State resident.

However, the SAFE Act was recently amended, suspending the requirement that only magazines that can contain seven rounds or less can be purchased. Going forward, magazines can be purchased that can contain up to 10 rounds. Magazines may only contain up to seven rounds regardless of their capacity, unless you are at an incorporated firing range or competition, in which case you may load your magazine to its full capacity. Active law enforcement continues to be exempt from the prohibitions on the possession of high-capacity magazines, assault weapons and magazines containing more than seven rounds, as well as the law prohibiting weapons on school grounds, ensuring that local safe-storage laws are not preempted by the SAFE Act.

Pat-Med parents get involved

Suzanne Donnelly, mother of two from Medford Elementary, took to the Patchogue Parents Facebook page just after the Parkland, Fla. shooting, after speaking with a friend who lives in Florida, whose child attending school less than five miles from the shooting experienced lockdown.

“There is this crazy cycle of: something tragic happens, thoughts and prayers are said, then it kind of goes away until something happens again,” she said, noting her intention to break that cycle.

Donnelly formed the Facebook page group called Pat-Med Parents Making a Difference, which has already attracted over 300 members. She hopes the page will get parents on the same page and involved in the safety of their children while working with the school district. She met with school district superintendent Dr. Michael Hynes yesterday morning and plans to move forward with parent meetings starting tonight Thursday, March 1 at 7 p.m. at the Patchogue Firehouse.

“There is a lot of misconception and questions out there. I want to use this group to get parents involved and not change the current security system, but work with it,” she explained, hoping to use the ideas and research of parents. “I think the school can utilize the concerned parents who are willing to give up their free time to look into options available to protect our children.”

Some items possibly up for discussion include metal detectors, armed security guards, retired police and military, and mental health services. 

–Nicole Allegrezza