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Protesters demand Katko act on guns, hate speech following El Paso, Dayton shootings

Tom Magnarelli
WRVO Public Media
About 30 people came to a protest outside Rep. John Katko's Syracuse office Tuesday.

Protesters in Syracuse are demanding Rep. John Katko (R-Camillus) do something on gun control following the recent shootings in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio. Protesters also want Katko to call out the racism and xenophobia, they said is coming from President Donald Trump and rising in the U.S. 

Donna Oppedisano, a teacher at Jamesville-DeWitt High School, said her worst nightmare is the shooting of students in her school. She said she was outraged when she saw an advertisement for Kevlar backpacks for kids to carry to school.

“What will it take Representative Katko, for you to stand up in support of sensible gun measures?" Oppedisano said. "Universal background checks. Why won’t you stand up for universal background checks? Why won’t you stand up for a ban on assault weapons?”

After the El Paso shooter posted anti-immigrant writing, referencing an "Hispanic invasion of Texas," echoing words of Trump, Oppedisano said Katko didn’t call out the source or man stoking fear.

Immigration activists were also among the 30 protesters who came out. Jim McKeever is leading a group to Tijuana, Mexico in September, to deliver donations to shelters and be observers in immigration court. He said the Trump administration is making it virtually impossible for migrants to seek asylum in the U.S., a legal right, and he wants Katko to speak out against it. 

"He makes a big point of constantly saying our immigration system is broken," McKeever said. "It's screwed up, it's complicated, it's a mess. But it's not broken. What's broken right now, are the people leading this country and that includes him."

Speaking with reporters in Oswego last week about the shootings, Katko said the rhetoric on both sides of the aisle needs to tone down.

“Both sides got to sit down and realize that there is another side to the coin and work it out," Katko said. "They’re not doing that on either side. They have to.”

Katko is pushing a red flag bill he introduced last year that would take guns away from someone deemed a threat. He is less concerned with universal background checks, he said, which already passed the House, and currently exists in New York State. When asked if Katko opposes a ban on assault weapons, in a statement, a spokesperson said that, "banning these firearms would make millions of people criminals," which is why Katko is pursuing policies like the red flag law, which she said would keep all guns out of the hands of people who shouldn't have them.  

Tom Magnarelli is a reporter covering the central New York and Syracuse area. He joined WRVO as a freelance reporter in 2012 while a student at Syracuse University and was hired full time in 2015. He has reported extensively on politics, education, arts and culture and other issues around central New York.