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Pro-gun advocates line up to fire "the shot heard 'round New York" at the Black Lake Fish and Game Association in Morristown, NY. Photo: Zach Hirsch
Pro-gun advocates line up to fire "the shot heard 'round New York" at the Black Lake Fish and Game Association in Morristown, NY. Photo: Zach Hirsch

2nd Amendment advocates fire their weapons in protest

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This past weekend marked the one-year anniversary of New York's tough gun law, known as the SAFE Act.

On Saturday, opponents of the law held rallies they called "the shot heard 'round New York," where they fired a symbolic gunshot in protest of the SAFE Act.

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Sean McFadden of Canton poses with his weapon. Photo: Zach Hirsch
Sean McFadden of Canton poses with his weapon. Photo: Zach Hirsch
It’s pouring rain at the Black Lake Fish and Game Association, but that doesn’t seem to faze any of the demonstrators here this morning. About 50 people – almost all men – are standing side-by-side in the mud, talking casually as they wait for the clock to strike noon. Some are decked out in camouflage. Everybody clutches their own rifle or shotgun.

Soon they’ll fire the so-called “shot heard ‘round new York,” which is a reference to the Shot Heard ‘Round the World. That was the start of the Revolutionary War in Concord, Mass.

“The British Redcoats were on their way to disarm the law-abiding colonists, which is exactly the same thing that the governor is saying he’s going to do with the SAFE Act, is disarm the law-abiding citizens,” said Dan Skamperle, a Democrat in the Ogdensburg City Council.

There’s nothing in the SAFE Act that says Governor Andrew Cuomo aims to disarm law-abiding citizens, but 2nd amendment advocates like Skamperle feel New York has taken a big step in that direction.

“The law itself, and the way it was passed, is the exact type of tyranny that our forefathers warned us about, and that’s why they put the 2nd amendment in there,” Skamperle said.

The SAFE Act’s main provisions include bans on assault rifles and high capacity magazines, tougher punishments for people using illegal guns, and universal background checks on anyone who buys a gun in New York.

The protestors argue that most people who buy guns are responsible sportsmen, not criminals.

“My name’s Sean McFadden. I’m 17. Live in Canton. Been around guns my whole life.”

Sean McFadden believes the SAFE Act is well-intentioned - but he says criminals are going to get firearms no matter what the laws are. He says New York’s laws only alienate people who go through the legal channels to get guns and ammunition.

Another big critique of the SAFE Act is that it was passed too quickly last year, with little legislative debate or public comment, after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. That gave gun owners the creeps, and they’ve been fighting it ever since.

In December, a federal court upheld most of the SAFE act as constitutional. All but ten of New York’s 62 counties have passed resolutions against it, according to pro-gun advocacy groups who have been keeping track.

“Thirty seconds!”

A young boy plugs his ears as the demonstrators raise their guns to fire the symbolic gunshot. Photo: Zach Hirsch
A young boy plugs his ears as the demonstrators raise their guns to fire the symbolic gunshot. Photo: Zach Hirsch
It’s just about noon – almost time for the symbolic firing. A young boy with a buzz cut – maybe not old enough to shoot yet – stands off to the side, plugging his ears. I cover mine, too, as the line of men raise their firearms and aim at the snowy field ahead.

“Fire!”

“I am extremely pleased with the turnout, especially with the weather,” said Larry Kring, one of the lead organizers.

Kring used to be an Environmental Conservation officer. Now he works with the Black Lake Fish and Game Association, which is hosting today’s rally. He says he’s hopeful that events like this will draw attention to their cause - against what he calls a progressive liberal agenda.

 “They just don’t like guns and they pass laws without talking to people who use them appropriately,” Kring said. “Gun ownership in this state, in this country, is very big, and it’s a proud heritage. And we just want to keep it that way.”

Supporters of the SAFE Act, including Governor Cuomo himself, have insisted that no one is conspiring to disarm the public. Supporters also argue that it should be more difficult for anybody to obtain and use a gun, since they are inherently violent machines.

But Dan Skamperle says the laws should target bad people, not guns.

 “Gun didn’t kill anybody. And we certainly didn’t. So they should turn their sights on the real problem instead of the law-abiding citizens,” he said. 

For now, the SAFE Act remains in place. Today, January 15, is the deadline for ammunition sellers to be registered with state police. Also starting today, internet orders of bullets must be placed in person with a certified facilitator, and gun owners must get rid of any magazines that can hold more than 10 rounds. 

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