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Town hall on gun violence becomes debate on firearm regulation

Rochester City Council Vice President introduces Congressman Joe Morelle
James Brown WXXI
Rochester City Council Vice President introduces Congressman Joe Morelle

A town hall discussion on gun violence hosted by Congressman Joe Morelle in Irondequoit Monday night brought out differing views on how that issue should be dealt with.

Gun advocates came from Syracuse, Buffalo and the Southern Tier --- to express their displeasure with certain gun regulations. 

Greg Waddams of Phelps is a member of gun rights group SCOPE (Shooters Committee On Political Education.) Waddams said that the key to slowing gun violence isn’t in regulation, he wants kids exposed to the power of guns early like he was.

“I can remember back as old as I am when I took my hunter safety course,” said Waddams. “They put a head of cabbage on a post. And they shot that cabbage. That made coleslaw all over the place. That’s still in my mind the power of that weapon.”

Quinn Lawrence of Rochester made a similar appeal. He said he’s a martial artist who went from avoiding to advocating after going to a shooting range. He said New York has more regulations than other states but that hasn’t stopped gun violence here. 

“As a New Yorker, I can’t own whatever gun I want,” said Lawrence. “Somebody in Arizona for example. They can own something in Arizona that I can’t legally own. But here we are in Irondequoit talking about gun violence.”

Sarah Dumrese of Mom’s Demand Action, a national group calling for stricter gun regulation, said that some people shouldn’t have access to guns at all. 

“Someone with a history of domestic violence, someone with a history of mental illness, somebody with a criminal history, those are the people who we would want picked up by a federal background check and put on a prohibitive buyer list,” said Dumrese. 

Rochester City Council Vice President Willie Lightfoot attended the event and praised Morelle for working with different levels of government on gun violence and hopes to bring an event like Monday night’s within the city limits.

“We have to make sure that we’re working in partnership with our partners in government and with our citizens no matter where they may live to help us combat, eradicate, advocate against this violence in our community,” said Lightfoot.

A standing room only crowd at Irondequoit Town Hall Monday night.
Credit James Brown WXXI
A standing room only crowd at Irondequoit Town Hall Monday night.

Morelle, a Democrat from Irondequoit who has a long history of advocating for gun restrictions, said the conversation was a good mix of people across the political spectrum. Morelle was invited to go to a shooting range by several different people at the Irondequoit Town Hall. 

“I think everyone should experience as much as they can and a diversity of experience is a good thing," Morelle said. "I think on this issue, if people think by going to a gun range it’ll broaden the way I do this by going to a gun range, I’ll do it. I’m not sure it’ll change my opinion but you never know.”

For now, Morelle says his focus on guns remains the same: taking federal action. 

“Obviously the states are going to do what they’re going to do and I applaud that, but I think I need a national approach and national agenda,” said Morelle. “Each state can do its own thing but how do we knit this all together. That’s why I’m really supporting federal action on universal background checks and a whole host of things that we have proposed and talked about.”

Morelle said a national agenda would include laws similar to one signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Monday that extends the waiting period in New York State to buy guns from three days to 30 in order to allow more time for background checks. 

James Brown is a reporter with WXXI News. James previously spent a decade in marketing communications, while freelance writing for CITY Newspaper. While at CITY, his reporting focused primarily on arts and entertainment.