MIDDLETOWN — A town hall style meeting on gun violence prevention Saturday at Middletown High School covered every topic from banning assault rifles to the role of mental illness in mass shootings.
Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, who hosted the town hall, once or twice had to keep people on opposite sides of the gun control issue from engaging in cross-debate, although the discussion for the most part remained civil.
Maloney said early in the session he supports the banning of weapons such as assault-style rifles like the AK-47 and semi-automatic rifles like the AR-15, but not everyone present agreed with him.
John Sterlace, of Middletown, said that is the first step on a “slippery slope” where “the ultimate goal (of those who support it) is a ban on all firearms.”
But Maloney insisted that change can happen without rescinding people’s second amendment rights, and he does not support such a ban.
One woman in the audience suggested people would be safer “if more law-abiding citizens carried firearms,” such as teachers and employees at businesses.
Maloney disagreed, saying that multiple surveys have shown that “teachers overwhelmingly don’t want to carry guns.” He added that parents he has spoken to are not in favor of teachers being armed.
Mary Lou Deitrich, who taught at BOCES for 31 years and was wearing a red and white “Moms Demand Action” T-shirt, agreed.
“I am so tired of people saying teachers should be armed,” Deitrich said. “How is a police officer supposed to know who is the shooter (in such a situation)?”
Added Ashley Chavez, a senior at Middletown High School: “I would not feel safe if a teacher had a gun.”
A woman who said she teaches special education students but did not want to give her name said the focus on the role of mentally ill people in gun violence discussions “hurts me.”
“Let’s not malign them and make them the evil in this problem,” she said.
Maloney agreed that “we should not stigmatize them all,” while noting some mass shooters have been mentally ill, and it is important to learn more about what drove them to such acts.
Several bills calling for changes such as universal background checks and “red flag” laws — which would allow weapons to be temporarily removed from people who pose a danger to themselves or others — have been passed by the House and are awaiting action in the Senate.
Maloney said he believes the political reality in Congress is changing, and there will be “a political price to pay” for those who do nothing.
Maloney also plans to meet with sportsmen and gun owners to try to find common ground in the gun violence debate.