Sheriff's Firearm Advice Spurs More Debate

Dec 4, 2015

Sheriff Paul J. Van Blarcum
Credit Sheriff Paul J. Van Blarcum

Debate is continuing online a day after the Ulster County Sheriff, in a Facebook post, urged qualified residents to carry firearms in response to recent mass shootings.

Reached by WAMC News Thursday afternoon, Sheriff Paul J. Van Blarcum, in office for about a decade, stood by the Facebook post his office made earlier in the day. In the post, Van Blarcum writes:

In light of recent events that have occurred in the United States and around the world I want to encourage citizens of Ulster County who are licensed to carry a firearm to PLEASE DO SO. I urge you to responsibly take advantage of your legal right to carry a firearm. To ensure the safety of yourself and others, make sure you are comfortable and proficient with your weapon, and knowledgeable of the laws in New York State with regards to carrying a weapon and when it is legal to use it. I also want to remind all Police/Peace Officers both active duty and retired to please carry a weapon whenever you leave your house. We are the thin blue line that is entrusted in keeping this country safe, and we must be prepared to act at any given moment.

"Well, it's really self-explanatory; it goes into what's obviously happened in California, but what's happened in the United States and across the world. And I for one would encourage anybody who is licensed, and who is proficient, and who is responsible, and is comfortable doing that to carry a weapon. You know, when stuff hits the fan it'd be nice to know that there's somebody there that's going to stand up," he says.

Are you concerned that it would complicate your job in law enforcement to have other people carrying weapons and potentially using them if a situation does happen?

"No. I'm not."

Van Blarcum’s post garnered headlines from around the world and fierce online comments from supporters and opponents alike. One opponent: Gardiner musician Tim Hunter, who launched a change.org petition calling on the sheriff to “change your mind or change your job.”

It had nearly 700 supporters by Friday morning. But Hunter acknowledges his petition isn’t likely to chase Van Blarcum from office.

“Possible censure. I know Iv’e spoken to many other public officials here in Ulster County who are aghast. Not that the sheriff would call for public safety, but the method with which — you know, 100 percent carry, scientifically, doesn’t convey safety.”

Ulster County District Attorney Holley Carnright referred a request for comment to a post his office made Thursday. Carnright writes that he has “complete confidence” in Sheriff Van Blarcum and finds “him to be thoughtful and direct and a bona fide asset to our community.” Urging residents to “see something, say something,” Carnright adds, “Ulster County is blessed with an exceptionally trained proficient law enforcement community” and says he discourages any action by untrained and unskilled citizens.”

Hunter says the issue isn’t so black and white.

“While I respect the sheriff’s opinion and hope that his real interest is to keep the citizens safe, the science that I’ve looked at and the studies that I’ve read show that this would not be a method that would in fact add safety, but would in fact add greater risk,” Hunter says.

Albany County Sheriff Craig Apple, meanwhile, tells the Times Union that “most people who have a permit to carry already carry,” adding “you don’t want to instill fear in your constituents.”

For his part, Sheriff Van Blarcum wasn’t worried about the potential firestorm from his original post.

"That's the great thing about living in the United States. I can live with that. If you don't agree with me that's fine. But as the head of the Ulster County Sheriff's Office and an elected official in Ulster County I think it's important that I get my opinion out there," Van Blarcum says.

On that last note, there’s no debate: the original Facebook post has already been commented on almost 3,000 times and shared 28,000 times.