Shandaken board declares opposition to New York's new gun law

Above: Video (part 4 of 5) from a meeting of the Shandaken Town Board on Monday, February 4, showing public comments from several Shandaken residents who spoke out against a resolution opposing New York State's new gun control law. For more Shandaken town board meeting video, see the Town of Shandaken YouTube channel.

Even in a region where the politics are as prone to unpredictable extremes as the weather, the Ulster County town of Shandaken is famous for its political battles. From the endless debate over whether to build a Phoenicia sewer (never built) to the fierce jockeying over the Belleayre Resort (still theoretical), Shandaken seems to have a bottomless zeal for ideological battles whose only concrete result is to pit neighbor against neighbor.

Take last night's town meeting, for instance: A controversial resolution declaring opposition to New York State's new gun control law was passed 3 to 1, over the objections of dozens of town residents who showed up to urge the board not to act on the resolution.

The resolution, offered by Republican town board member Vincent Bernstein, is dubbed "Resolution In Support of the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution." An excerpt:

WHEREAS , the Town of Shandaken Town Board believes there are many other less intrusive means available, other than rash, confusing and inarticulately drafted firearms laws that would effectively control, manage and reduce violence in our society, such as mental health reforms, anti-bullying programs in our schools, the enforcement of the existing laws to the fullest extent possible, the addressing of the universal availability of extremely violent video games and movies to our youth and the proper psychological counseling for those in need or who request it;

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED , that the Town Board of the Town of Shandaken does hereby oppose the enactment of any legislation that would infringe upon the Right of the People to Keep and Bear Arms and consider such laws to be unnecessary and beyond lawful legislative authority granted to our State representatives, as there is no documented correlation between gun control measures and crime reduction.

The resolution has no legal force, and will have no effect on gun law within Shandaken's borders. But it has already become a polarizing issue in a town whose politics seem destined to be marked by bitter division.

At last night's meeting, many Shandaken residents took the microphone to oppose the adoption of the resolution. Just one person -- a former gun shop owner -- spoke in favor of the resolution.

Several who spoke out against the adoption of the resolution were quick to offer support for local hunters. But Bernstein, in his comments about the resolution, said that the Second Amendment was not designed to protect hunters, but to give ordinary citizens the power to resist a tyrannical government.

"The Second Amendment, in my opinion, addresses the tyranny of government," he said. "You can say...I'm radical, or whatever, but the Founding Fathers after the Revolution had just thrown off the yoke of English tyranny, and that, along with the rest of the Constitution, was put in place to keep that from happening again."

Jen Williams Dragon, a Chichester resident and social-media consultant, spends much of her time blogging and tweeting about the Shandaken hamlet of Phoenicia in an effort to promote it as a tourist destination. At the meeting, Dragon was visibly upset as she took the microphone to speak against the resolution.

"It is a horrible offense to the parents who suffered the loss of their children in Sandy Hook if we pass this resolution," Dragon said. "I will be ashamed to say I came from Shandaken if this resolution passes."

Marybeth Mills, owner of the Peekamoose Restaurant in Big Indian, told the Shandaken board that states with stricter gun control measures have lower firearm-related mortality than those with more lax gun regulations, and that the board should not oppose efforts to tighten the laws governing gun purchases.

"This [resolution] is reactionary, and not something I wish representing me or my town," Mills said. "I don't think this supports me or the town."

Unsurprisingly, the issue drew comment from some of the town board's most vocal and frequent critics.

Brian Powers, former publisher of the now-defunct Phoenicia Times, said that he thought Bernstein was trying to impose his own political views on the entire town.

"I think that this particular resolution is the most personally offensive piece of business that's been brought before the Town of Shandaken board in the 15 or so years that I've been a careful observer of this board's business," Powers said. "To me, that we would presume to speak on behalf of all the members of this town -- all the 3,000 plus of us who live here -- on a matter which is clearly the most painful, egregious, controversial, problematical issue before our nation at this moment is deeply offensive."

Kathy Nolan, a local activist who lost a bid for town supervisor in the 2011 election, told the town board that broad resolutions on either side of the issue were unhelpful.

"This is a global resolution. It doesn't say specifically what parts are bad of [New York's new law], it doesn't look for consensus," Nolan said. "If people want to work on this in Shandaken, I think we should do the hard work, and say what do we want, and what don't we want -- not global, not memorializing, things that are very specific that we can take action on as a community."

One resident -- Pine Hill's Matthew Persons, a former gun shop owner in the hamlet -- spoke in favor of the resolution.

"I think [New York's new gun law is] very restrictive, and I think that your resolution is a fine resolution," he said.

Shandaken's Republican supervisor Rob Stanley told town clerk Joyce Grant he was too ill to attend the meeting. Grant read a statement on Stanley's behalf, urging the board to table the resolution. Town board member Doris Bartlett, a Democrat, made a motion to table the resolution.

Bartlett's motion to table the resolution was not seconded, and the vote was held. Board members Bernstein, Alfred Higley Jr, and Jack Jordan voted in favor of the resolution, which passed 3 to 1.

Reaction to the vote among Shandaken residents was swift. A debate between supporters and opponents is unfolding on the Phoenicia Facebook page. Robert Burke Warren, a children's folksinger also known in the area as "Uncle Rock," wrote a long blog post about the meeting, in which he said that a movement was already afoot to have the resolution repealed:

Today the Shandaken Dems are abuzz with talk of a petition to counteract the resolution, which will happen. I am disappointed about the resolution, but not really surprised.