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“In light of recent events that have occurred in the United States and around the world I want to encourage citizens of Ulster County who are licensed to carry a firearm to PLEASE DO SO,” Van Blarcum said in the statement posted to his office’s Facebook page.
“To ensure the safety of yourself and others, make sure you are comfortable and proficient with your weapon, and knowledgeable of the laws in New York State with regards to carrying a weapon and when it is legal to use it,” Van Blarcum said.
The sheriff also urged active-duty and retired police officers “to please carry a weapon whenever you leave your house.”
“We are the thin blue line that is entrusted in keeping this country safe, and we must be prepared to act at any given moment,” he added.
His proclamation has drawn widespread attention — it has already been shared on Facebook more than 30,000 times — and comes amid a renewed national debate about gun laws and how to prevent mass shootings in this country.
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The sheriff’s office re-posted the statement on Friday. Van Blarcum, an elected official and a Democrat, estimated the county has more than 10,000 licensed gun owners, the Times Herald-Record reported.
“Look at all the mass shootings around; people are getting slaughtered and nobody has a gun,” Van Blarcum told the newspaper. “If you don’t have a gun, you’re useless.”
Van Blarcum referenced Wednesday’s shooting in California that took place in a large conference room where health department employees were holding a holiday party: “I think it’s important to remind everybody with the way things are, you’ve got people coming in with long rifles just slaughtering people,” Van Blarcum told the Daily Freeman.
But he emphasized that he’s “not trying to drum up a militia of any sort,” he told the Associated Press.
Ulster County District Attorney D. Holley Carnright responded to the sheriff’s advice, calling the official “thoughtful and direct” but adding caution should be exercised. Holley also advised against “misreading” Van Blarcum’s comments.
“Though I fully support our right to bear arms and to defend ourselves I am not convinced more guns in the hands of untrained or unskilled civilians is the answer and nor do I believe does the Sheriff,” Holley wrote in a statement. “I would discourage any action where untrained or unskilled citizens create an opportunity for unintended tragedy which could pose risk not only to innocent citizens but to our own law enforcement personnel.”