Guns and Rats on Agenda at West Side Town Hall

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The Upper West Side had a town hall meeting last week. Hosted by City Council Member Gale Brewer at John Jay College on Tuesday, the meeting was an opportunity for the public to air their quality-of-life issues to a panel of elected officials and representatives of city departments.

Speakers from the neighborhood addressed a range of local concerns, including environmental friendliness, bad landlords and gun control, which residents considered particularly important following the Dec. 14 shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

“I’m wondering why we can’t register and inspect every weapon that is not going to be under an assault rifle ban, and why we can’t insist upon some kind of liability for gun holders, just like we have for driving a car and driving a power boat,” said Joyce Silver, a Columbus Avenue resident. “And why don’t we have schools for people who have guns, so that they have to pass safety and handling regulations?”

New York state Sen. Adriano Espaillat was sympathetic to Silver’s worries about guns’ accessibility. He said that he and Brewer were pushing in City Hall to establish gun buyback programs in neighborhoods across the city. “I think that locally, at the ground level, we have to do the best we can to bring back every gun possible,” he said, mentioning that political debate was not enough. “We want to do this at the grassroots level and bring it from the bottom up. … Every community must do what they can to eradicate guns.”

He noted, “I don’t see why people should have a semiautomatic rifle in their closet. I just don’t understand. It’s not part of my psyche or my culture.”

Assembly Member Richard Gottfried also spoke out against lax gun laws, saying, “It is outrageous that it has taken such an escalated series of mass murders to apparently put this issue on the front burner. We hope that it will produce results.”

Brewer voiced her support of stricter gun regulation as well. In response to a question about funding a march in Washington, D.C., to lobby for change, though, she said that the approach had to be tactical: “If we went to Washington, we would have to make sure that it included people from other parts of the country where there is stronger NRA [National Rifle Association] support, even upstate. Sometimes I feel like we’re talking to ourselves. I obviously think it’s a good idea from my perspective. The question would be, if we could pinpoint what legislation we could pass to actually do the kinds of things that we’re concerned about.”

One of her main concerns, she said, was firearms getting into the hands of people with mental health conditions, like the mental and personality disorders Sandy Hook shooter Adam Lanza is rumored to have been suffering from. “That can be lethal,” Brewer said.

In addition to guns, many locals talked about rats. Residents from West 89th, 80th, 72nd and 60th streets complained about the creatures taking over parks and garbage receptacles, and worried that even with the city’s recent efforts to curb infestations—including the “West Side Rat Academy”—not enough has been done.

“We’re quite good at getting rid of rats when we have a specific situation,” said Brewer, noting that she and the Department of Health do building-specific walkthroughs and then collaborate with building owners to address problems. Department officials further stated that the city was installing many “rat-proof” trash compactors and improving garbage cleaning and collection efforts around the neighborhood to prevent rats from prospering in residential areas.

The final heavily discussed issue of the evening was what city officials were doing to reduce the neighborhood’s environmental impact. With urgent concerns about climate change in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, locals asked about ways of switching to alternative energies and reducing carbon emissions.

Brewer was optimistic that the City Council would begin tackling the issue. “The discussion of Hurricane Sandy is going to be formal,” she said. “I think we could use that as an opportunity to try to get other aspects of a more appropriate environmental approach involved. It would be like a whole series of hearings to be planned out on the hurricane, and the ways in which the energy situation should be addressed in every single building. I think that’s the way to approach it.”

She added that this improved environmental approach could be a “silver lining in a horrific situation.”

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  • James P

    While keeping guns out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill is commendable, we should reject at long last the NRA’s nefarious re-framing of the issue to focus on those who shoot the gun rather than on the free accessibility of military assault weapons. Anyone who believes that a Bushmaster is necessary for defense of the home or person against throngs who would deprive him of his civil liberties (e.g., his hunting rifle or FOX News cable) is sufficiently paranoid to be included among those persons who should not have one. We have no evidence that Adam Lanza was mentally ill, autistic (and so what if he was) or had a personality disorder (don’t we all). He had no criminal record. Rather, he merely came from the same subculture, obsessed by assault weapons, that comprises much of the NRA. Having been home schooled, he may very well have harbored an unnatural but not uncommon fear of institutional education. Based on what we know so far, he seemed no more likely a candidate before he committed this horrible atrocity enabled by the profit motive of the gun industry, its NRA and the members, voters and legislators that it has so strongly influenced by fostering this paranoia, than any NRA member who plans to grasp tightly his semi-automatic to fend off tax collectors and other officers whose jobs it will be to enforce the laws of our democracy. Let’s put an end to any further tolerance of this NRA sponsored perversion of the assault weapon debate and prevail upon our fellow Americans to weigh in with common sense. The issue is guns, not people; and if people, it is those who would deny it.

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