Residents crowded inside Riverhead Town Hall last Tuesday, most of them to weigh in on two specific public hearings. The juxtaposition of the issues to be discussed was striking when you take a step back.
On one hand, the Town Board will weigh whether to lift a restriction so people can buy chicken nuggets at a fast food drive-through in Wading River. On the other hand, it will consider whether to restrict locations in Riverhead Town where people can buy assault weapons.
Chicken nuggets or assault weapons? Residents spoke passionately on both proposed code changes.
It should be easy for the Town Board to decide to follow through on the code change and restrict where firearm businesses can operate — however begrudgingly its members seemed to approach the issue. The proposed change emerged as part of the downtown revitalization efforts.
At a work session in May, Dawn Thomas, administrator of Riverhead’s Community Development Agency, said: “We’re looking at a lot of public activation for downtown and really creating that family-friendly environment.”
As Supervisor Yvette Aguiar said that day, it’s not ideal to have a gun shop next door to an ice cream shop.
Hovering over the debate is a firearms company’s proposed relocation to a vacant building at 680 Elton St. The move by Niosi Firearms Development would place it a short distance from Mill Pond Commons to the west and other residential areas to the north and east. The company began advertising its new location even before the town Planning Board and Zoning Board of Appeals concluded the approval process. And a burglary in which weapons were stolen from the facility raised more concerns about the company.
Several community members at last Tuesday’s hearing expressed concern about the company’s founder, Anthony Niosi. A blog Mr. Niosi authored through December 2017 contained a shocking number of racist posts, as was first reported by RiverheadLocal last month. Under the initials ATN, he posed this question in one of the last posts: “If a pedestrian (of any race, but especially black) while being approached by a black person walks across the street to avoid passing, are they racist?”
He then pointed to NYPD statistics that purportedly proved the inherent danger of Black people, noting that “one should not walk across the street in NYC when approached by a black; they should run.”
Mr. Niosi’s viewpoints shouldn’t be entirely shocking, considering that his company openly advertises itself with a logo that depicts a variety of fasces, resembling a symbol used on fascist-era Italian warplanes during World War II. The logo is a near direct replica of what appeared on the Regia Aeronautica’s aircraft. Those symbols were abandoned when Italy’s armed forces changed after the war.
Many of the posts on the blog are disparaging to Jews and Israel.
Marylin Banks-Winter of Riverhead wrote to the Town Board that she is “appalled to even the consideration of this shady business owner having the audacity to present his business in the Town of Riverhead.”
She noted that Mr. Niosi’s statements should give the town “great caution” and a reason to “look at the bigger picture of this type of commodity coming to our Town.”
In considering the viability of firearm stores, it’s important to remember the evolution of the industry. In 2015, our paper’s former outdoors columnist, Martin Garrell, who for decades wrote about fishing, hunting and other activities, wrote that the National Rifle Association in the 1970s shifted its mission and the voices of an older generation of sportspersons had been “drowned out.”
“How did we go from a nation with a hunting/target shooting tradition in which firearms were respected to where we are now: a paranoid nation obsessed with self-protection and assault weapons?” Mr. Garrell wrote.
Earlier this month, The New York Times published an examination of how gun companies over the past two decades have refocused messaging away from hunting and toward personal safety and with “military-style weapons attractive to mostly young men.”
That’s the market now for firearm dealers.
Consider how the Niosi Firearms website had prominently advertised the Double FoldAR, a weapon marketed as the “world’s most compact AR15” that gives the user “the highest level of concealability possible.”
Just what someone needs to hunt deer in Long Island woods.