Riders at Poughkeepsie Train Station Express Views on Gun Laws

The Poughkeepsie Train Station hosts a diverse population of travelers, providing transportation for those who visit the Hudson Valley and serving commuters who work in New York City. With this demographic diversity comes a diversity of opinions on hot-button issues, especially gun control.

It has been just over a year since the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. As the one-year anniversary of the tragedy rears its head, the conversation about gun laws is once again brought into the spotlight.

The Parkland shooting was unlike others because the students of the school started a youth movement in the wake of the event. They even appeared on Time magazine’s front cover with the caption, “Enough.”

There are many variables to the argument, such as screening and gun education. Michelle Hamel of Wappinger Falls, has seen a correlation between the teaching of religion and mental wellness in the country.

“We’re not teaching our kids morals or values,” Hamel said. “Since we took religion out of school, there has been a huge increase in mental health issues.”

While Hamel thought the problem came from a lack of religious education, her friend, Angie Carmelitano saw the problem in the education of guns.

“I do think we should have stricter laws, but I think the education sucks when it comes to guns and the use of them,” Carmelitano said. Coming from South Africa, Carmelitano provided a unique experience. As the daughter of a policeman who was on the force for 45 years, Carmelitano was surrounded by guns during her childhood. She shot her first rifle at the age of nine.

Riders and frequenters of the Poughkeepsie Train Station

In the context of the Parkland shooting, Carmelitano does think that the teens such as Emma Gonzales did have a little impact on the progressing of gun laws. However, Hamel disagreed and thinks that the teens had no impact on gun laws. Although they did not agree on the Parkland teenagers’ impact, they both agreed that gun laws are going in the wrong direction. They also leaned more toward the statement “People kill people” rather than “guns kill people.”

Carmelitano then commented on how gun laws changed in South Africa when she was growing up.

“Each person was allowed one gun” she said. Since she lived on a farm, she had several hunting rifles that landed in different categories when they eventually had to give up their weapons.

Comparing Camelitano’s experience in South Africa, it is interesting to compare other countries’ gun laws especially in the wake of the New Zealand mosque shootings. Although New Zealand has strict vetting laws, 99.6 percent of people who apply for a gun licenses are approved. When looking at New York, the state does not require a license to own or possess long guns, but does require a permit to legally possess or own a pistol.

Under the governance of Andrew Cuomo, New York passed the Safe Act in 2013, which requires dealers to require background checks for all customers, as well as “cracks down on illegal guns and ban only the most dangerous assault weapons” according to NYSafe.org.

While the two topics can be mutually exclusive, the debate over gun control, and to what extent firearms should be regulated, always centers around children and their safety in school. Given the frequency at which school shootings have transpired in recent years, it has become hard to not connect the two.

Gianna Lapadula is a senior in high school who plans to attend Fairfield University in the fall.

“At times, you read the news and you just get so scared and psyched out,” Lapadula said. “On one hand there is everyone saying guns are bad and should be banned across the board while the other side says that the only way to solve the crisis is by teaching more people to use guns. I don’t know what to think”

Kelly Stevens, originally from New Paltz, is a senior at the University of Buffalo. She believes that social media and the news media today are making gun owners out to be villains.

“There are plenty of responsible gun owners out there,” Stevens said. “Obviously no gun owner wants school shootings to happen but there are plenty of responsible gun owners out there who don’t want to be grouped in with shooters and called the things we get called.” When asked if she thinks a more armed school would make them safer in general, she said she was unsure.

Ryan Hawkins, a sophomore at Illinois State University in Normal, Illinois who is originally from Schenectady, is a firm believer in strict gun control.

“Conservatives need to wake up and realize that it’s 2019,” Hawkins said. “There is no reason why weapons like that should be as readily as they are.” He mentioned that he can feel nervous at times given the fact Illinois has a concealed carry policy that allows registered users to walk around armed.

Darnold Morris, a middle-aged Poughkeepsie man, feels strongly about his right to bear arms. “The government can leave me the hell alone,” Morris said. “I got all my guns legally and have the right to use them to protect myself. Anyone talking ‘bout taking them away pisses me off.” Morris then marched off to his train. He did not have anything more to add.

Other local train riders expressed more concern about the issue, particularly considering the string of massively publicized shootings over the past year.

“A few years ago, the thought that my children getting gunned down at school would have never crossed my mind,” said May Topper, a mother of two. “Now, especially after what happened in Florida, I think about it almost daily.”

She was referencing the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting of 2018 in which a gunman entered the Florida high school and killed 17 students and staff members. In the past week, two survivors have taken their own lives, and investigators believe that trauma from the shooting may have played a role in each suicide.

“I know we have like a right to bear arms and stuff, but I think it has kind of gotten out of hand,” said Mark Matza, a daily commuter to New York City. “You got people who shouldn’t have guns walking into schools and churches and killing the most innocent people. Something’s got to happen. I don’t know what, but we have to do something.”

A week after he made those comments, 49 people were gunned down in two New Zealand Mosques. The Prime Minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern, announced that assault-style rifles would be banned throughout the country in response. “I used to think that taking away people’s guns was nuts,” said Matza before the shooting. “But with all the crazy stuff that keeps happening, maybe [The United States] should think about it.”

In the wake of such a strong governmental reaction to the recent terrorist attack in New Zealand, many Americans are left wondering why such change has not been enacted in the United States, after a growing number of mass shootings have devastated lives and communities.

“After the shooting that happened [in New Zealand] there was immediate action to prevent a travesty like that from ever happening again,” said Colleen Hudak, a 24-year-old from New Paltz. “There are so many reasons why this doesn’t happen in the U.S., but now there’s proof that it can be done.”

Those reasons range from the polarizing opinions of our nation’s leaders to the power of the National Rifle Association (NRA) to conflicting views on the Second Amendment.

“Everyone in our nation is so polarized on how they feel about it. The politicians and the people, no matter where they come from, everyone seems to feel strongly about it but for different reasons,” said Rick McQuellin, a father from Red Hook. “I worry for my kids. There have been threats in the local area, and you hear about these shootings all the time, but nothing is changing,” he said.

Hudak agreed with his sentiment, speaking from her own experience as a student. “I can’t speak from experience, but I can imagine as a parent you want and expect your children to be safe when they’re at school. I don’t think it should be too much to ask to be able to feel safe throughout your school day, no matter what age you are as a student,” she said. “But I feel like it’s all out of our control right now. And our politicians can’t come to an agreement on it.”

Riders boarding their train at the Poughkeepsie Train Station

For Hudak, the hope lies in the next generation.

“There’s been such a showing of people in support of what is just and right, especially amongst young people, and I think that says a lot about the direction we’re going in, not just in gun control but a lot of issues.”

Although many commuters feel like gun violence is a serious issue with no simple solution, they do not think it is a hopeless cause. Jonathan, a student at Vassar College, believes that impactful change must start at the institutional level. Namely, Jonathan feels like law enforcement is a significant part of the gun violence issue.

“I don’t think there’s going to be an easy solution soon, but I think it has to start with the way the law maneuvers their own usage of arms,” Jonathan said. Jonathan is originally from Chicago, and while he has witnessed gun violence in his hometown, he described it as more of a “sonic presence.”

While Jonathan felt like law enforcement was a significant part of the issue, other commuters feel like the Second Amendment of the Constitution is the main issue. Michael Murray and Katrina Yablonsky both believe the “right to bear arms” is archaic and somewhat unnecessary in today’s society.

“It was a more barbaric way of life at the time,” Yablonsky said, speaking of the years following the American Revolution. She added that this right to bear arms did not include assault rifles and automatic weapons. Both Murray and Yablonsky agreed there will be a solution in due time.

“Other countries have found a way to curb gun violence, so why can’t we?” Murray said.

Reporting by Oscar Fick, Mike Luciano, Kenny Marples, Mike Minardi and Meaghan Roche.