Return Of Gun Show To Westchester Stirs Up Debate

Dec 22, 2016

The return of a gun show to Westchester County is stirring up controversy. Local Democrats are crafting legislation to ban the show while Republicans are proposing a law to mandate model gun show procedures.

A gun and knife show is scheduled to return to the Westchester County Center in White Plains in January after a four-year hiatus. Republican Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino and the vendor had decided against holding the show in February 2013 following the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting tragedy in neighboring Connecticut in December 2012.  Phil Oliva is senior advisor to Astorino.

“So this year there was a lot more requested dates by the vendor and we got a weekend that works. And that’s the only reason,” says Oliva. “There’s no other thought on why it came back now. It could’ve came back a year or two years ago. It just so happens that the vendor got the date that they wanted and we had availability that weekend.”

Astorino, who took office in 2010, lifted a gun show ban that had been put in place in 1999 by the previous county executive, Andrew Spano. The Democrat had instituted the ban following the fatal shootings at Columbine High School in Colorado. Democrat Michael Kaplowitz is chairman of the Westchester County Board of Legislators.

“The Board of Legislators, myself included, was completely snookered during this holiday season, New Year’s season. We were not made aware that the gun show was coming back. In light of Sandy Hook as our neighbor, in light of the shootings around the country, it’s frankly insensitive to have the gun show back at the Westchester County Center,” Kaplowitz says. “It’s a perfectly legal opportunity, similar to pornography, but why should we have either of them in our living room, and so we are proposing legislation ban gun shows in government buildings, county government buildings, in Westchester County.”

He says legislation has been drafted that he hopes legislators will vote on during the January 9 Board meeting. But the legislation would face a veto. Again, Oliva.

“I don’t think the county executive believes we need to have a ban on the gun show,” says Oliva.

Meanwhile, the Republican Caucus of the Board of Legislators announced Wednesday that it will propose a law to mandate state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s Model Gun Show Procedures. They are procedures many gun shows in New York are following, yet the eight legislators believe that Westchester residents will feel more secure about having gun shows in the county if these requirements are enshrined in law. They say that if the law passes, Westchester County would have the strongest law in the state regulating gun shows.

Schneiderman’s Model Gun Show Procedures grew out of his 2011 investigation of gun shows around the state and go beyond the requirements of the state’s Gun Show Law. Such procedures were put in place for the New York State Arms Collectors Association’s gun show at Empire State Plaza in Albany in 2013, a show that takes place the same weekend in 2017 as the gun show in Westchester — January 21 and 22. Westchester Board of Legislators Republican Minority Leader John Testa, in a statement, says such a law will preserve constitutional rights while assuring the public that a proven successful procedure for the event is in place. Testa says the GOP feels this is the best solution at this time. Here’s Oliva.

“Probably the safest place you could possibly be with being there that weekend with the heavy security presence,”  People, just good law-abiding citizens who want to kind of exercise not just their second amendment rights, but their first amendment rights of free assembly.”

Again, Kaplowitz.

“You can tell I’m reasonably outraged by it. It was not done during the daylight where everybody knew about it. In fact, it was put in last minute and put in, not coincidentally I think during the inauguration period [Donald Trump inauguration] so people would be focused on other things.  “It’s just not Rob Astorino’s finest moment.”

Kaplowitz says that if he were made aware of the potential of the gun show returning well in advance, he still would have issues.

“It is something that doesn’t belong in governmental buildings,” says Kaplowitz.

Democratic Congresswoman Nita Lowey, who has a district office in White Plains, is weighing in, saying in a statement she is outraged to learn of the gun show’s return after a welcome four-year reprieve. Lowey, who supports universal background checks among what she calls commonsense gun safety reform, says gun shows should not be held in government buildings. Oliva says the gun show is good business for the county.

“The gun show is, like I said, has been one of the most popular shows we’ve had,” Oliva says. “We expect in real dollars to be $40,000-$50,000 to our bottom line and that’s a very healthy weekend show.”

Kaplowitz alleges Astorino’s move is strategic. Astorino is up for re-election next year and is mulling another gubernatorial bid in 2018.