TOMPKINS COUNTY, N.Y. — Guns were the topic of two resolutions this week at Tompkins County Legislature. Legislators supported a program to buy back unwanted guns, and in a separate resolution called on Congress to enact an assault weapons ban.

First, Tompkins County legislators unanimously supported a Gun Buyback Event, proposed by Sheriff Ken Lansing and District Attorney Matthew Van Houten. The event will allow local residents to sell unwanted guns back to Tompkins County. Similar events have taken place in past years.

Members of the public will be able to surrender guns that are no longer wanted with “no questions asked,” the resolution states. The guns will be checked to determine if they have been involved in any known criminal activity, stored for one year and then destroyed.

Without such an event, it can be difficult for many people to safely dispose of unwanted guns, “leading to situations where the guns are lost or left unsecured,” the resolution states.

Legislator Anna Kelles said they are reintroducing the idea of a gun buyback program in response to discussions that have been taking place about gun violence.

“There’s a bit of confusion that gun buybacks are an attempt to get a lot of the AR-15 rifles off the street and a lot of the larger weapons off the street,” Kelles said. “What these typically do bring back in are the guns that people have that they might have inherited or guns that they’ve brought into the state and maybe don’t fit in with the laws up here and maybe don’t want to deal with it and they’re not necessarily being stored properly. So the risk of them being taken, being stolen and then sold on the street, or in some cases children getting at them and having accidents with guns.”

The event will take place from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. June 9 at the Airport Fire and Rescue Building, 72 Brown Rd., Ithaca.

Call for assault weapons ban

The buyback program was supported unanimously by legislators present, but the second resolution related to guns calling for Congress to enact an assault weapons ban was not unanimous.

With the resolution, local legislators are calling on Congress to “enact a law mirroring provisions of the assault weapons ban of 2013 that prohibits the sale of assault weapons and high capacity magazines.”

In 1994, Congress passed the Public Safety and Recreational Firearms Use Protection Act that banned the manufacture for civilian use of certain semi-automatic firearms defined as assault weapons and certain ammunition magazines defined as large capacity in an effort to reduce crime and violence in the U.S. But in 2004, the act expired and has not been renewed by Congress.

In the last several years, the resolution states, mass shootings with assault-style weapons and high-volume magazines have killed hundreds of people in the U.S., including Tucson, Arizona; Aurora, Colorado; Newtown, Connecticut; Clackamas, Oregon; Virginia Tech University; Las Vegas, Nevada; Orlando, Florida; and Parkland, Florida.

Legislator Mike Sigler opposed the resolution, saying a different approach other than an outright ban may be more effective. He said other types of weapons, like automatic weapons and handguns have been reclassified.

“I just don’t see how pushing again for a ban brings people that you kind of need to get on board, how it brings them to the table,” Sigler said.

Legislator Rich John said he is sometimes skeptical about taking a stance on national issues, but in this case he said he believes it’s worthwhile for Legislature and Tompkins County to make a statement and say, “there’s a better way to do this.” John said he believes there are gun control measures that people widely agree with, but the issue is gridlocked largely because of money and politics.

“You’re right that nothing has happened, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be silent,” John said.

The resolution passed 12-1, with Sigler voting no. Legislator Glenn Morey was excused.

Kelsey O'Connor

Kelsey O'Connor is the managing editor for the Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact her at koconnor@ithacavoice.com and follow her on Twitter @bykelseyoconnor.