Community activists protested at the corner of the New Hyde Park Inn on Thursday in response to the Nassau County Friends of the National Rifle Association dinner and auction.
Randi Levine, of Bayside, said she was “totally against everything going on inside” the Inn that evening.
“It’s a common cause,” Levine said. “I think it’s sad that in this day and age, you can’t go to school, or a concert, or stand in a crowd and not worry about something horrible happening.”
Alfred Vacchiano, chairman of the Nassau County Friends of the NRA, released a statement before the event detailing the evening’s mission and the objective of events like this one.
“This organization was established with the goal to educate men, women, and children on gun safety and help make local communities safer and better,” Vacchiano said. “To those of us working for true gun safety education and training, we fail to understand why anyone would work against the Friends of NRA program.”
Before the event, a flyer said it would feature a raffle and auction with prizes including a shotgun.
Levine was joined by around 10 protesters holding signs up next to Jericho Turnpike. Protests were peaceful and overseen by Nassau County police officers standing next to the inn.
Jim Ansel, a 75-year-old resident of Port Washington, donned a poster draped over his front and back that read in capital letters: “NRA MERCHANTS OF DEATH.”
“How many more must die?” Ansel said.
The general manager of the Inn, Cynthia Osswald, said that the business was completely neutral in the matter and that its services are available to everyone in the community.
Several attendees declined to comment on the event or the controversy before heading into the dinner. Attempts to speak to event organizers after the event were unavailing.
Laurence Dittmer, 49, of Levittown spoke briefly about the organization, fundraiser and responsible gun ownership.
Dittmer, a founding member of the Nassau County Friends of the NRA and firearms instructor, said he did not take part in the organization of this event. He has attended several of these events and did not share the public sentiments of concern.
“Since all the firearms laws have to be adhered to,” Dittmer said, “everybody goes through a background check, and since there are so many attendees and so little firearms obviously only a fortunate few are going to get those.”
Anyone who succeeded in winning an auction for one of the prized firearms is subject to a background check.
“If you look at gun shows, gun stores, the anti-gunners don’t seem to have as much of a problem with those,” Ditmer said. “Here, at most, there’s relatively few firearms.”
“As to why they think those few firearms would be a danger to the community when everyone here is a respectable, law-abiding citizen, I’m not sure.”
“As a concerned parent this hits home,” Marisol Perez, a protester, said. “I have a daughter and many nieces and nephews and they’re always worried something is going to happen at school.”
The dinner sparked outrage in nearby communities, drawing the attention of protesters and local officials. The Nassau County Democrats relocated an upcoming fundraiser from the inn after the facility refused to cancel the NRA-related fundraiser.
“The NRA is not welcome in our community, and any business who would support putting our children at risk like this does not deserve our business,” Nassau County Democratic Chairman Jay Jacobs said in a statement.
The NRA Foundation, the co-sponsor of the Nassau County Friends of the NRA, is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization of the National Rifle Association. Net proceeds benefit shooting sports programs in the community and nationwide, according to its website.