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Guns are hot topic at candidates forum

A community member asks a question for candidates after submitting his lottery ticket at the door at Saturday’s People’s Forum in Plattsburgh. (Photo provided — Hannah LaPlante, Press-Republican)

PLATTSBURGH — With another mass shooting fresh in the public mind, candidates for Congress passionately pledged at a public forum that gun control will be at the top of their lists.

“The policies that are going on in Washington, D.C., are morally bankrupt. We need to call them accountable,” Ronald Kim of Queensbury said. “Thoughts and prayers are not enough. We need action on this. Our kids are dying.”

Kim, an attorney, was one of 10 candidates — nine Democrats and one Republican — who participated a People’s Forum for those seeking to unseat incumbent Republican Congresswoman Elise Stefanik in New York’s 21st Congressional District.

The forum, hosted by the Plattsburgh-based community group Change Through Action, was attended Saturday by about 200 people at E. Glenn Giltz Auditorium, SUNY Plattsburgh.

Audience members asked questions that were answered by candidates chosen at random by event organizers. Other candidates could choose to also answer the question by playing a “wild card.”

Audience members intently take notes during open discussions at Saturday’s People’s Forum in Plattsburgh. (Photo provided — Hannah LaPlante, Press-Republican

Stefanik was invited but did not attend.

“Horrific”

The topic of gun control came up several times as audience members referenced the mass shooting in Florida Wednesday, when 17 people were killed by a gunman who entered a high school.

Democrat Tedra Cobb of Canton said universal background checks with no loopholes are needed for those wishing to purchase firearms.

Republican candidate Russ Finley engages the audience in a gun-control discussion at Saturday’s People’s Forum in Plattsburgh. Seated behind him, from left, are Democrats Tedra Cobb, Ronald Kim and Emily Martz. (Photo provided — Hannah LaPlante, Press-Republican)

She chastised Stefanik for her record on gun issues.

“Elise Stefanik voted to allow this young man [Florida shooter], who had a history of mental illness, to purchase a weapon,” Cobb said. “We need to undo that law.”

Democrat Tonya Boone of Granville said Congress needs to study what works in preventing gun violence.

“I’m the mother of a 9-year-old, and it is horrific to think of our kids not being safe,” Boone said.

Candidate Ronald Kim adds his thoughts to the conversation at Saturday’s People’s Forum in Plattsburgh. Seated behind him, from left, are Democrats Tanya Boone, Don Boyajian and Tedra Cobb, Republican Russ Finley, and Democrats Sara Idleman, Emily Martz, David Mastrianni, Patrick Nelson and Katie Wilson. (Photo provided — Hannah LaPlante, Press-Republican)

Mental health funding

Democrat Patrick Nelson of Stillwater said Republicans have not done anything to address gun violence.

“I’m really tired that whenever one of these things happens [mass shooting], people try to scapegoat people that have treatment for mental health,” Nelson said. “If you have a mental-health problem, you are no more likely to violent than anybody else, and in fact, you are more likely to be a victim of crime.

“I’m sick and tired of this being used as an excuse by Republicans to not do anything. They can’t be serious about mental health and then cut Medicaid. They can’t be serious about mental-health and not support Medicare for all, which fully funds mental-health treatment.

“We have a stigma against treatment, we have a stigma against mental health, and I’m sick of politicians scapegoating those of us who get treatment for mental health.”

Pressure on families

Democrat Sara Idleman of Greenwich, who is a retired teacher, said the last thing she wants to see is more guns in schools, and the focus should be on improving support services.

“Teachers don’t want them [guns]; they don’t belong there. Kids don’t want them,” she said. “Teachers are not trained to be police officers.”

Democrat Katie Wilson of Keene said intense pressure to survive in life is often a cause of violence and that people need better conditions in which to live.

“I see the source of this as what everything else is coming back down to when you look at economic inequality, this wealth gap,” she said. “We have people out there, like my own family, struggling to survive under so much stress. The pressure that puts on home life, the pressure that puts on children. We need a paradigm shift.”

NRA influence

Democrat Don Boyajian of Cambridge said the National Rifle Association is often the culprit when it comes to Congress’s inability to enact gun-control laws.

“You know what the source of all of this is? The NRA,” Boyajian said. “They have their hands with a chokehold on Congress. You know what NRA really stands for? Not Relevant Anymore. We need their influence out of Congress right now.”

FBI faulted

Republican Russ Finley, of St. Lawrence County, said gun laws like New York’s SAFE Act only make criminals out of law-abiding citizens.

“We’ve got a societal problem, and making law-abiding gun owners criminals is not the thing,” he said.

“This shooting in Florida was a systemic failure by the FBI.”

Opioid crisis

The candidates also touched on health care, the economy and the opioid crisis during the two-hour forum.

Democrat Emily Martz of Saranac Lake said more resources should be put toward battling the opioid epidemic.

“One of the biggest things we need to do as a community is to take the stigma off the addiction, whether we are talking about opioids or any other kind of substance-abuse addiction,” she said. “We need to put the spotlight squarely on recovery to bring people out of the shadows and get them into recovery.

“And we also need to commit resources, especially family services, because too many children are winding up in the foster-care system.”

Expand Medicare

Democrat David Mastrianni, an oncologist from Saratoga Springs and Schroon Lake, said Medicare works and needs to be expanded.

“Patients like it; doctors like it; hospitals like it. We should simply expand it across,” he said. “But we should also do one other thing — we should allow Medicare to use the free market because Medicare right now does not have the option of using the free market.

“When a drug is discovered, the manufacturer sets the price, and Medicare pays. No other business works like that.”

GOP response

Republican Party chairs in Clinton, Essex and Franklin counties reacted to the forum by issuing a joint statement.

“Representative Stefanik is a proven leader and strident advocate for the North Country’s 21st Congressional District,” read the statement from Clark Currier of Clinton County, Shaun Gilliland of Essex County and Ray Scollin of Franklin County.

“Her voting record and positions are open and transparent. Our congresswoman does what she says she is going to do. There are no empty campaign promises.

“She is, and always has been, doing what we elected her to do in Washington or out in the 21st District.

“With Elise Stefanik, you know where she stands.”

Primaries

The eventual Democratic candidate will be chose in a primary on June 26.

To get on that ballot, the candidates must get at least 1,250 signatures from registered voters across the 12-county district between March 6 and April 12.

Finley must do the same to challenge Stefanik in a Republican primary.

The trio of Republican Party leaders said they will be watching the Democratic field and listening to their answers.

“As the Democratic primary process continues, it is time for those candidates to answer some hard questions that many North Country residents want to know,” their statement said.

“Do they support single-payer healthcare, Nancy Pelosi as house speaker, and the obstruction of the Trump Administration through government shutdowns?”

(Editor’s note: Four daily newspapers in the North Country — the Enterprise, Post-Star of Glens Falls, Watertown Daily Times and Press-Republican of Plattsburgh — are sharing content to better cover New York’s 21st Congressional District.)

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