New Castle Debates How to Address Murphy on Gun Issue

New Castle officials pledged last week to work together on a variety of strategies to catch the attention of policymakers, including state Sen. Terrence Murphy (R-Yorktown), to strengthen New York’s gun regulations.

The Town Board vigorously debated how to convince Murphy and other lawmakers, particularly in the state Senate which has been opposed to tighter gun restrictions, that more robust laws are needed to protect the public.

During their discussion at the Mar. 6 work session, board members said they supported legislation backed in the Assembly that would establish measures such as Extreme Risk Protection Orders that would allow a judge to temporarily confiscate firearms to people who are at risk to themselves or others; banning bump stocks, which increase a rifle’s capacity; increasing the current three-day waiting period to 10 days; and prohibiting convicted domestic abusers from owning a gun.

Supervisor Robert Greenstein said the board will be working with Chappaqua School District officials and should reach out to other municipalities and legislators across the state to turn up the heat on senators who have refused to budge.

Greenstein also read a first draft of a strongly worded letter the board eventually plans to send to Murphy indicating its displeasure with his stance on gun control.

The discussion came a week after Councilman Jeremy Saland recommended the town reject $200,000 Murphy helped procure for a basketball court to be built behind Town Hall. Saland said a message needs to be sent that Murphy’s position on firearm legislation is out of step with his New Castle constituency.

“To me, this has to be one of the most central issues, whether it’s the state, whether it’s the federal government, and again, when we look at it, you can call it politics, but (Assemblyman) David Buchwald has co-sponsored this legislation,” Saland said. “It is dying, figuratively and literally, in the state Senate. They are not listening because we are not giving them a message of dire straits that if they do not adhere to our warning as a constituent, but also as a local legislator in their district, there will be a consequence.”

Greenstein and Councilwoman Lisa Katz said they opposed relinquishing the $200,000 because it would likely fail to have the desired impact and remove funding for a project the town has looked forward to completing. Katz said the board also cannot stop accepting grants or reaching out to a representative every time members disagree with a legislator’s positions.

“He may have helped us procure it, but I don’t think it will sway him one iota, and if we say we don’t want the money, frankly I don’t think he’ll care,” Katz said. “So to me I would like to find another way to give that kick.”

Councilwoman Hala Makowska said the board should try to arrange a face-to-face meeting with Murphy to let them know where they stand rather than relying on letters.

But Greenstein, who characterized the tactic as lobbying, said the challenge is greater than trying to convince one senator to change his position. He said throngs of people from around Westchester and the state – parents, students, school officials and other residents – must head to Albany and apply pressure, similar to what is happening in Florida.

“You do want face-to-face (meetings), but you don’t have 200 people jam into one office,” Greenstein said. “You divide it into groups and then you hit everybody, and if they allow the debate to take place on the Senate floor, then you all show up there and you have a press conference. That’s how you make a statement.”

During last week’s discussion, resident Jane Silverman suggested to Greenstein that since he has the strongest working relationship with Murphy of anyone on the board, it would be more effective if he spoke to the senator. Unlike other political debates, there is too much at stake on this issue, she said.

“At this point, we have to say to him you’re not welcome here because you are actively putting forth positions that are beyond the pale for us,” Silverman said.

Greenstein, who has endorsed Murphy in the past, cautioned that he didn’t think it’s the role of a Town Board to try and defeat a certain officeholder. Murphy is up for re-election in November. Greenstein also mentioned he isn’t shy about telling the senator he’s wrong on this issue.

In the past few weeks, Murphy has supported legislation that classifies mass shootings as acts of terrorism, a bill that Saland said doesn’t address the problem of keeping guns out of the hands of the wrong people.

The gun safety discussion in New Castle started about two weeks with the board exploring any local legislation to bolster the storage and handling of firearms. However, similar legislation already enacted at the county level would likely preempt local efforts.