Far reaching bill package is aimed at curbing gun violence

Legislators were joined by New Yorkers Against Gun Violence, students and families affected by gun violence to announce bills and proposals aimed at further curbing gun deaths in New York.

The ten bill package was presented by Assemblyman Brian Kavanagh, D-Manhattan, the chair of New York legislators for Gun Violence Protection, and the Assembly and Senate sponsors of each bill. Also in attendance were student members of NYAGV’s education program, which helps to empower young people whose families have been affected by guns.

Kavanagh hopes the package will expand upon the provisions of the SAFE act, and further protect New Yorkers from gun violence.

“With the SAFE Act, we really took a number of steps forward that brought New York into the top tier in terms of stronger gun laws in America. And we’ve seen results,” Kavanagh said. “New York is among the lowest states in terms of per capita gun deaths in the country, and we’ve seen the SAFE act work in spite of predictions by some who opposed it at the time, that said it would be a disaster for law abiding gun owners in our communities.”

A bill (A.05826, S.00470) introduced by Assemblywoman Ellen Jaffee, D-Suffern, and Senator Jose Peralta, D-Jackson Heights, would require microstamping technology be implemented on all firearms manufactured after January 2018. Microstamping produces a unique code on casings ejected from a gun, allowing crime investigators to track the weapon type and original purchaser.

The technology could deter individuals from using a gun to commit a crime, as it can be easily traced.

“The technology is designed to discourage gun trafficking,” Jaffee said, “And to aid law enforcement officials in investigating homicides and other crimes by allowing them to trace the firearms to the original purchasers through cartridge cases found at the crime scene.”

Three bills in the package aim to keep guns away from volatile individuals, specifically those convicted of hate crimes, domestic violence, and those displaying destructive behavior.

Senator Daniel Squadron, D-Carroll Gardens, and Assemblywoman Latrice Walker, D-Brownsville, introduced a bill (A.7547/S.5569-a) that would prevent those convicted of hate crimes from possessing a gun.

Squadron hopes the package of bills will see speedy passage despite discontent between democrats in the Senate. “I wish I could say that [I was] here representing the entire state Senate,” he said. “But we know that when it comes to common sense legislation to protect New Yorkers and their families, too often the Senate has stood in the way.”

Senator Daniel Squadron believes the state Senate has often roadblocked gun safety bills.

Similarly, two bills introduced by Assemblywoman Amy Paulin, D-Scarsdale, and Assemblyman Daniel O’Donnell, D-Manhattan, (A.0980 and A.5025) would expand the types of guns that domestic violence offenders are required to surrender, and include misdemeanor domestic violence offenses as a reason to revoke an individual’s ownership rights.

A third bill would restrict an individual’s access to guns if police or family members observe a potential threat from that individual’s behavior. If the individual displays erratic or violent behavior, the bill (A.6994/ S.5447) introduced by Senator Brad Hoylman, D-Manhattan, and Assemblyman Kavanagh, would allow family members to seek a court order to restrict that person from obtaining a gun.

Legislation proposed as part of this package will also implement expanded safety practices. This includes requiring proper storage of firearms, proposed by Assemblywoman Paulin, and Senator Jeff Klein, D-Bronx, (A.0563/S.4392) to prevent accidental shooting, particularly by children.

Another bill proposal (A.0914), sponsored by Assemblyman Thomas Abinanti, D-Greenburgh, and Senator Kevin Parker, D-Brooklyn, would restrict the sale, transport, and possession of guns that are undetectable by x-ray machines and other security devices.

Two bills in this package will also attempt to provide information about gun violence, and in turn, focus the efforts of closing certain background check loopholes that currently exist.

The first (A.2977), proposed by Assemblywoman Jo Anne Simon, D-Brooklyn, will establish a gun violence research fund, which will be expended to the department of health, by way of a bill proposed by Senator Roxanne Persaud, D-Brooklyn, and Assemblyman Matthew Titone, D-Staten Island, (A.6640/S.4363) to create a SUNY gun violence research initiative.

Further gun violence prevention efforts will effectively be created in response to the potential findings of a gun violence research institute. Assemblymember Simon expressed that a research institute would “examine the causes and impacts of firearm violence and provide scientific evidence on which to base effective prevention efforts,” she said. “For far too long, there has not been adequate investment in research on firearm violence.”

Assemblyman Kavanagh and Senator Michael Gianaris, D-Queens, have also proposed a bill (A.3438/S.5808) that would close some loopholes in New York’s background check process. The legislation would give law enforcement 10 days, instead of three, to complete a background check, and require that sellers report anyone attempting to purchase a firearm that fails a background check. It will also require gun dealer employees to have a clean background check as well.

A bill in the drafting stage by Assemblywoman Pam Hunter, D-Syracuse, would join New York in an interstate agreement to combat the flow of illegal guns over state lines. The issue is of great importance in Syracuse, which saw 30 homicides in 2016 – the highest in the city’s history.

“The guns that are killing our young people in the city of Syracuse aren’t manufactured in New York, don’t come from that community, they’re coming from different states,” Hunter said.

Lastly, a bill proposed by Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal, D-Manhattan, (A.4798) would establish guidelines for a statewide gun buyback program, which has seen success in cities across New York, particularly in Yonkers, which has seen a decline in gun violence since the implementation of their buyback program, according to Deputy Chief Tim Hodges.

“What we decided to do was have a gun tip hotline, and it was totally anonymous and it was only for illegal guns, not legal guns,” he said.

Hodges recruited the help of James Nolan, a resident of Yonkers whose brother, Michael Nolan, a professional baseball recruit was fatally shot in 2015. Nolan says his help in gaining the trust of the community has benefitted the program and the city.

“After Michael’s sudden and tragic death, I had a choice. My choice was to make the streets better and safer as much as I can,” Nolan said.

Assemblyman Kavanagh hopes that this bill package will help protect New Yorkers from “unnecessary” gun violence.

“We still have levels of gun violence in our country and in our state that are unacceptable,” he said. “We’ve made progress but we need to do more.”

New proposal in Albany could start ‘textalyzer’ era

Car accidents have been on the decline for 16 years, but now trends are beginning to reverse. Legislators and advocates blame distracted driving, which often goes uninvestigated without driver admission or a witness. The Legislative Gazette’s Katie Carroll reports on a proposed bill in New York that could change that.

“Evan’s law,” named after 19-year-old Evan Lieberman, who died in a distracted driving accident, would allow law enforcement to utilize the “textalyzer” technology to determine whether a driver was distracted by a phone or another device at the time of an accident.

We got that call that every parent dreads. There’s been a car collision, and your son’s in the hospital… The driver told police that he fell asleep at the wheel. My gut was telling me, you don’t fall asleep on that crazy windy road at rush hour. I subpoenaed the phone records for our own civil suit. It was six agonizing months before I got the phone records. And the phone records revealed an entirely different story to me. He was texting throughout the drive.”

Ben Lieberman, Evan’s father, has become an advocate against distracted driving and is helping to develop the textalyzer with mobile data company Cellebrite.

“The goal was to create something that can be administered like a portable sobriety test,” he said.

The device would detect swiping and typing, but doesn’t have the capabilities to access personal content, and that’s important. The phone would never leave a driver’s hand, and it can differentiate between legal Bluetooth voice activation versus illegal touching and swiping.”

Independent Democratic Senator Diane Savino of New York City says the textalyzer is a necessary tool for law enforcement to make driving safer for all.

“We need to elevate the penalty and provide more tools for law enforcement so that they can get to this. We need to change the behavior of people so that they finally realize that this is more dangerous than drunk driving.”

Nirvana: Unplugged, Proves Their Legacy

Seated atop a rolling office chair, on a stage covered in lit black candles and clouded in cigarette smoke, Kurt Cobain and NIRVANA tuned their instruments to play their first all-acoustic set for MTV Unplugged. Audience members got up close and personal with the band and Cobain, who was named the 12th best guitarist of all time according to Rolling Stone.

The performance, captured by MTV for its unplugged series, was recorded on November 18, 1993, and has remained one of Nirvana’s most popular recorded albums of all time. To simply listen to this performance and to watch it on DVD are two different experiences entirely. The ease and banter between bassist Krist Novoselic and drummer Dave Grohl with Cobain, coupled with his stage presence gives viewers a lens into the best selling band at its peak.

The band, with the help of cellist Lori Goldston and guitarist Pat Smear performed a set of 14 songs, including 8 originals and 6 covers. Swiftly transitioning from their grunge roots in “Come as You Are” to an orchestral sound complete with cello and accordion in “Jesus Don’t Want me For a Sunbeam,” NIRVANA showed off their innate musical abilities. It was alarming how laid back they seemed on stage, making each song feel almost effortless as they transitioned from strumming and chatting and smoking cigarettes to playing.

Cobain’s easily accessible grungy, scratchy voice truly led the way for this incredible performance. Showcasing his talent on a solo version of “Pennyroyal Tea” and most memorably on the final song of the night, “Where Did You Sleep Last Night,” Cobain sung out every ounce of tone in his voice, creating a miraculously effortless grunge sound. Although Cobain was nervous about playing a fully acoustic set for an audience, the stripped down version of NIRVANA proved to be just as intoxicating as the amplified one.

In addition to the other covers, Cobain brought out the brothers of the Meat Puppets to accompany him on their three songs in the set: “Plateau,” “Oh, Me,” and “Lake of Fire.” The gesture proved that for Cobain it’s never been about the fame or the credit, but about the artistry and collaboration in the rock genre. By integrating so many covers into the set, NIRVANA showcased their artistic talents and showed love for their many inspirations and influences.

Underground Punk Rock Rising in New Paltz

Everything about the New Paltz underground music scene is a serendipity. I suppose in a place where so many young people come together to collaborate and get an education, it is only natural for them to try their hand at exploring musically as well. Walking into Snug Harbor bar on Main St. is an experience of its own. The walls are plastered with graffiti-esque amateur artwork. The wood floors are stained with years of beer spilled on them and the thousands of vans, converse, and leather boots that have danced on them throughout the years.

In the midst of a chaotic Tuesday night at this local watering hole, a band called Baby Saints sets up their equipment. Formerly known as Old Cave, the band got its start as a solo project of lead singer Dominic Antifeatro during his freshman year at SUNY New Paltz. During his junior year, Antifeatro recruited the help of his friends: bassist Devin Gilbert, Ben Finkelstein on drums, and Ted Rosa on guitar.

Although it was a short setlist, Baby Saints showcased their pure talent by mixing original songs with a cover of Neil Young’s “Cortez the Killer.” Their original songs are clearly a product of mixed influence, incorporating slow, easy, ska-like jamming tunes with screamo punk vocals at the bridge and chorus. As the sound builds in sound and intensity, so does Antifeatro with his emotional, bare, intense vocals. Just as quickly as the sounds build up, they drop off after the chorus, back into an almost sarcastic cheery tune, moments after Antifeatro screams “how do you sleep now?”

The attention of the crowd was drawn uniquely to Baby Saints. During a night of 5 different bands, Baby Saints drew the biggest crowd into the tight space between the bar and tables. Perhaps the most significant moment was the guitar solo during their cover of  Neil Young’s Cortez the Killer. All eyes were on Rosa, as he skillfully transported the crowd through an all immersive melodically and chord perfect sound, while the band backed him up with their natural jam band sounds.

The original recordings of Old Cave are available online, but here’s hoping Baby Saints keep up their perfect blend of the best of classic; both past and present.