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Peekskill Superintendent Signs Gun Control Letter

Peekskill Schools Superintendent James Willis is among area school leaders calling for a ban on semiautomatic weapons.
Peekskill Schools Superintendent James Willis is among area school leaders calling for a ban on semiautomatic weapons. Photo Credit: Art Cusano

PEEKSKILL, N.Y. – Peekskill Schools Superintendent James Willis has signed a letter with 77 other members of the Lower Hudson Council of School Superintendents calling for gun legislation.

Seventy-eight superintendents in the council signed the letter as a reaction to the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. The letter calls for "adequate funding and access" to mental health services provided at the state and federal level, for the federal assault rifle ban to be reinstated and for the federal "gun show loophole" to be closed.

"We, the superintendents of the 78 school districts represented by the Lower Hudson Council of School Superintendents, call on our state and federal legislators to immediately enact stricter gun control legislation," the letter reads.

The superintendents' letter also calls for anyone convicted of a violent crime, whether misdemeanor or felony, to be barred from buying a gun, even if the person committed the crime as a juvenile.

“It’s interesting because I may be one of the very few former military people who are in our group,” said Willis, a former Marine. “We’ve made a very firm stance against the sale of semiautomatic weapons. We sent a copy of the letter to our legislators, and I heard secondhand that the American Association of School Administrators has also picked up on some of our recommendations for gun control as well.”

Other nearby districts represented by the superintendents council include Hendrick Hudson, Lakeland, Yorktown and Croton-Harmon.

At gun shows in New York, purchasers of firearms must undergo a National Instant Criminal Background Check. Under federal law unlicensed dealers at gun shows are not required to perform background checks.

Violators of New York's gun show laws are subject to misdemeanor criminal charges. Gun show operators who violate the law are subject to a fine of up to $10,000. Owning a pistol in New York requires a permit . Owning a shotgun or rifle does not require a permit.

Scott Sommavilla, president of the Westchester County Firearm Owners Association, said legislation should start where there is common ground, instead of immediately tackling gun control.

"Every single one of these has been a mental health issue," said Sommavilla, referring to mass shootings such as at Sandy Hook Elementary School and Virginia Tech University , the two deadliest in modern U.S. history.

"What can we do now? Mental health," he said. "Those should be done first because it's quickest and promotes the most safety for our children."

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