Grady L. Davis Jr. is a retired Erie County corrections officer who owns a shotgun, .22-caliber rifle, .357 Magnum and a Glock. The 61-year-old East Side resident also proudly carries his National Rifle Association membership card in his wallet.
So he seemed an unlikely participant in Friday’s rally in support of New York State’s controversial gun control law. But there he was, sitting in the audience with about three dozen others as Assemblywoman Crystal People-Stokes and nearly a dozen other lawmakers and community leaders stood as one in support of the state’s SAFE Act.
“I have 15 grandkids,” Davis said, “and if this is going to save one of their lives, or any of their lives, I’m all for it.”
It will be a pain to recertify his firearms every five years, he said, but he believes in universal background checks and closing the loophole on private gun show sales.
“There are too many people dying in the streets,” he said. “Something needs to be done.”
In sharp contrast to other local rallies in opposition to the governor’s hastily approved gun reform package, which predominantly featured white men, many of those who stood in favor of the SAFE Act in Buffalo’s Schiller Park Senior Center were African-American women and men active in the East Side community.
They said they’ve experienced first-hand the damage that gun violence does.
“I don’t have a problem with guns,” People-Stokes said, pointing out that she herself has a handgun permit.
She later explained that she got the permit a year ago for personal safety reasons at the urging of her husband. While she doesn’t own a firearm now, she said she keeps the permit so she can easily get one should she ever feel the need. She also said her father once belonged to the Big Hill Hunting and Fishing Club in Lancaster and was a hunter and NRA member.
But People-Stokes, D-Buffalo, said it’s possible to own a firearm and still believe in gun reform, which surveys show most Americans do. Her feelings about the SAFE Act also are affected by the fact that she lost three of her cousins to gun violence, she said.
She spoke most strongly in favor of the new recertification and database requirements for owners of handguns and assault weapons. If people are required to register their cars, there’s no reason guns shouldn’t be registered as well, she said.
“It will allow us to keep track of where legal guns wind up,” she said.
The Rev. James Giles, head of Back to Basics Outreach Ministries, recounted a litany of funerals for 14- and 15-year-old children struck down by gun violence, and the faces of their parents who wanted answers to the unanswerable: Why did my child have to die?
He said the Second Amendment was written during a time of muskets, when reloading took 30 seconds.
“If you bring back muskets, we’ll say everybody ought to have a gun,” Giles said.
He was one of more than half a dozen community leaders who stood side by side with Democratic politicians in support of the sweeping gun-control legislation that addresses everything from mental health reporting requirements to banning certain semi-automatic weapons and high-capacity gun magazines.
State Sen. Tim Kennedy, D-Buffalo, praised the SAFE Act along with State Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins, a Westchester County Democrat who represents Yonkers and was elevated as the head of the State Senate Democratic Conference in December.
At her first Buffalo stop, Stewart-Cousins said Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and President Obama moved forward with legislation that State Senate Democrats have been pushing for years.
“We were able to say we took a stand,” she said, “and we were able to say we set the standard.”
She attributed the strong backlash against the state’s gun control provisions to “the politics of fear and the politics of misrepresentation.”
Local representatives with the SEIU 1199, representing health care workers, said they’re organizing a rally in response to the protests in Albany planned for Thursday and are prepared to take buses to the state capital to show support for the SAFE Act.
Peoples-Stokes said Friday’s rally in Buffalo was conceived three weeks ago but took time to schedule so that more community leaders could participate and respond to the “vocal minority” that opposes the state’s latest gun-control measures.
“I know there are people who support it who aren’t saying anything,” she said.