The Queens County Young Democrats and Queens County Democratic Party organized on Friday a short panel discussion in Forest Hills on gun rights before the March for Our Lives event.
About 35 people attended a panel featuring City Councilmember Rory Lancman (D-Fresh Meadows, Jamaica Hills, Briarwood), State Assemblymember Brian Barnwell (D-Sunnyside, Woodside, Long Island City, Maspeth), and board member of the #Fight4AFuture National Leadership Council Mohammed Tazbir Alam. The new QCYD president Dori Ann Pliska presided as the moderator of the event.
Lancman began by noting New York City’s low rate of murders from guns. He attributed this to the city’s strict laws and community work.
“We’ve invested resources and people who interact in the community who could work with individual who we knew were susceptible to engaging in gun violence,” he said.
Barnwell, meanwhile, fixated on the legal history of gun rights, including the difference between federal and state jurisdiction over the purchase of firearms. He acknowledged it was difficult to provide a clear explanation of the gun market.
“It shows how complicated the issue is because it’s all statutory law,” Barnwell said.
Meanwhile, Alam, a University at Buffalo School of Law student and National Committeeman for the New York State Young Democrats, focused on how policies affected gun violence. He cited the example of the 10-year ban on assault weapons passed by Congress in 1994. For that decade, there were 12 mass shootings or incidents involving six or more deaths. From the law’s end in 2004 to 2014, this figure grew to 34.
While he did view as the federal government as dysfunctional, Alam felt hopeful that change could happen on local and state levels.
“We’ve seen young people around the country build a movement. What we need is their ability to pressure their state legislators to pass [these laws],” he said.
A few people in the audience asked questions to the panelists including more details about the technicality of laws and potential of stricter legislation in New York.
Brent Weitzberg, the Chief of Staff of State Assemblymember Andrew Hevesi (D-Forest Hills, Rego Park, Richmond Hill, Glendale, Kew Gardens, Ridgewood, Middle Village), asked whether it was possible to enact legislation to teach students about the consequences of their words. He cited a recent example at Forest Hills High School, where a student claimed to have a gun that later turned out to be false.
Lancman and Barnwell both felt a universal policy could not work as each school was different.
“These are complicated issues that have to be addressed school to school,” Lancman said.
At the end of the discussion, the panelists emphasized not only the importance of pressuring local officials, but also helping Democrats in other states as well.
Lancman offered his own message before those in attendance made signs for tomorrow’s march—unity.
“You want to do something that’s really constructive? Don’t waste time fighting other Democrats who have good progressive records,” Lancman said. “Let’s go beat Republicans, okay?”