04/28/13 6:00am
04/28/2013 6:00 AM

John Miller

My mother, borrowing some folk wisdom from the Disney film “Bambi,” routinely told me when I was a lad that if I couldn’t say anything nice, then I shouldn’t say anything at all. Obviously, at some point over the years, I stopped taking Mom’s (and Bambi’s) advice.

And yet I have something nice to say this week about a man who I had something not so nice to say about in this space not so long ago. The man in question is CBS News correspondent and part-time Shelter Island resident John Miller, who took some grief from me here for a televised report he did on Plum Island that I thought suffered from a rehashing of some oft-told but dubious tales about the island being the birthplace of Lyme disease and the Montauk monster.

After I criticized him here, however, we kissed and made up, after a fashion, and I have admired his work for CBS ever since.

And never have I admired it more than this past Friday night, when he and CBS anchorman Scott Pelley did an outstanding job reporting on the arrest of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the younger of the two brothers implicated in the Boston Marathon bombing.

The former Joan Giger Walker and I had just returned from dinner with friends in Greenport when we turned on our television to scenes of celebration in the streets of Watertown, Mass. The headlines scrolling across the bottom of the screen informed us that there had been an arrest in the case, but all we were seeing were flag-waving crowd scenes and policemen honking the horns of their patrol cars. We were desperate to know the who, what, where, when and how, and all we were getting, as we surfed from channel to channel, was more of the same: crowd shots from Watertown.

Until we switched to CBS, that is. In the space of less than 10 minutes, Scott Pelley and John Miller did a superb job of summarizing the story and the situation. Mr. Miller’s reportage, in particular, was most informative, as he called on his insider’s knowledge of law enforcement gained from his years of experience as a police reporter, as an aide to New York City and Los Angeles police commissioner William Bratton and as assistant director for public affairs with the FBI in Washington, D.C.

In other words, the dude has paid his dues. And never was that more apparent than Friday night on national television, when he and Scott Pelley helped make sense of as complex a news story as we’ve seen in this country since 9/11.

I’d never done this before, but I was so impressed with his reporting that at 9:23 p.m. I fired off the following email to the address I had saved after our tête–à–tête over Plum Island: “John: Great job tonight. Your coverage was very best, by far. (We channel surfed for a while before getting the real story from you and Scott.) Well done, sir.”

And now for the truly amazing part of this tale, remembering that this was a man sitting in a CBS-TV network studio in New York City, having just reported what probably will be the story of the year.

At 9:27 p.m., just four minutes after my original email, I get this back from John Miller:

 “Hey! They blocked the road from the Orient Ferry because they thought he might have made it on to the Cross Sound [Ferry]. Do we know if that is true? Thanks for the kind words. ”

Does this guy have sources, or what? Yes, the road had been blocked earlier in the day, and I was astounded that he knew about it at all, given everything that had been going on in Boston that day. And when I responded by sending him a link to Times/Review’s detailed online coverage of the false alarm at Orient Point, he responded again with a simple “Wow.”

Wow is right. I think I have a new favorite television newsman. And his name is no longer Brian Williams.

When I first met Steve Rosin, some 25 years ago, he was working as an apprentice to electrician Sal Prato. Steve would have been about 30 then, and what I remember most was that he was precise in his workmanship and soft spoken in his bearing. What I didn’t know then, but what I came to learn over the next 2 1/2 decades, as he continued to be our electrician of choice both at home and at work, was that he was kind and funny and incredibly reliable. And, by all accounts, he was a loving and devoted husband to Aileen and father to Sascha.

So it is with great sadness that I acknowledge Steve’s untimely passing this week at the age of 55. That is way too soon for a man of his vigor and lust for life, and it’s going to take me some time to make sense of his death. If I ever do.

tgustavson@timesreview.com

02/03/13 6:00am
02/03/2013 6:00 AM
A Bushmaster M-4 semi-automatic, similar to the one allegedly used in the Newtown school shootings last week.

A Bushmaster M-4 semi-automatic, similar to the one allegedly used in the Newtown school shootings.

So I have this old, rusty, single-shot, 20-gauge shotgun sitting in the corner of our bedroom, awaiting its fate.

What to do with it? Leave it where it lies, indefinitely? Attempt to melt it down in the burn barrel out back by the garage? (No, that would be against all sorts of laws, including those of nature.) Sell it through this newspaper’s classified ads? (No, can’t do that because the paper no longer accepts such ads, even for “antique” guns.) Or perhaps eBay? (No, “actual firearms” can’t be listed for sale there either.)

What to do with it? Hey, I have an idea: Why not encourage local police departments to implement gun buyback programs similar to those that have been so successful around the nation, particularly in the aftermath of the Newtown school massacre.

This is basically how they work: Police departments set a place and time where and when guns of any sort — from single-shot derringers small enough to fit into the palm of your hand to the sort of multi-round assault rifle used to mow down elementary school children in Connecticut — are turned in voluntarily, with no questions asked. Those turning in the guns are compensated — sometimes with cash, but more often with gift cards that can’t be used to buy another gun — and the unwanted guns are properly disposed of by the cops.

I very much doubt that buyback programs here would generate the quantity of guns produced in big city programs, if only because our populations are so much smaller by comparison. But any gun taken off the street is a gun that won’t figure in an accident or an act of violence, such as the tragic shooting in Flanders this weekend, and that’s a very good thing.

Skeptics routinely disparage them as “feel good” programs that do little to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and the criminally insane, but that’s not the only objective. As The Trenton (N.J.) Times editorialized after that city’s recent gun buyback program: “They represent an opportunity to safely dispose of old and malfunctioning firearms that could mean death in the hands of a child. We regulate the disposal of appliances, of paint, of outdated medication lest they spill destructive chemicals. It’s logical to be as conscientious about the clearing away of potentially deadly instruments.”

This week I have surveyed the chiefs of police in Southold, Riverhead and Shelter Island, asking them if they would support such a program in their towns, and I will let readers of this column know their responses as soon as I receive them. The Suffolk County Sheriff’s Department used to buy back guns, but that program was discontinued when the grant money dried up, according to the department’s public information office.

And time is wasting, as they say, with recent reports in this newspaper about unprecedented sales of guns and ammunition in the wake of the passage of New York State’s tough new Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act.

Meanwhile, a reader of my December column on gun control has pledged $1,000 to help implement such a program in Southold Town. And depending on the response we receive from the police chiefs, the former Joan Giger Walker and I will pledge another $1,000.

I wonder how many other community members would be willing to make small pledges to get the guns off our streets.

And if you’re wavering on this question, please take to heart these words of ex-New York City policeman Howard Martin of Manorville, as quoted in this newspaper last week: “Behind every tree, every window, every door there is a gun. It is the one thing that keeps America free.”

And bloody.

12/22/12 7:58am
12/22/2012 7:58 AM

A Bushmaster M-4 semi-automatic, similar to the one allegedly used in the Newtown school shootings last week.

“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

— Second Amendment to the
U.S. Constitution 

“I’ll give you my gun when you pry it from my cold, dead hands.”

—National Rifle Association
bumper sticker 

So the Bushmaster M-4 semi-automatic carbine that fired 11 lethal bullets into the body of a 6-year-old last Friday in Newtown, Conn. was legally purchased and licensed by the killer’s mother. Oh, isn’t that reassuring.

And where will it happen next time — and there will be a next time, there’s always a next time — a nursing home? Or the halls of Congress? It’s not a question of when, only of where.

This madness must stop, and it’s perfectly clear to me where we must start. And it’s not with better mental health screening or with better security in schools or, as some idiots have suggested, with arming school principals.

We must start by banning the ownership of semi-automatic (and automatic) weapons by private citizens. Period.

Screw the Second Amendment. We no longer have a “well regulated Militia.” Nowhere is it written that we have a right to own weapons of mass destruction. The guns Adam Lanza wielded last week — and I’m talking about both the rifle and the two semi-automatic pistols — should be available only to military and law enforcement personnel. And the ones already in circulation should be subject to a buyback program like the one that worked so successfully in Australia after the 1996 Port Arthur massacre.

And that’s not all we should do. No one who walks into a gun show should be able to walk out with a new gun. Anyone who purchases a new gun should be subject to a reasonable waiting period — during which his or her background should be properly vetted — before taking possession of that gun. And the vetting doesn’t have to be that complex. In Canada, they require gun purchasers to provide two personal references, which probably would have stopped the obviously troubled Adam Lanza in his tracks … if his mother hadn’t purchased those assault weapons legally. Which is exactly my point. Those guns never should have been available to her.

To do what I’m suggesting will, of course, involve a direct confrontation with those defenders of the Second Amendment, the National Rifle Association. Bring it on. In the wake of this epidemic of mass killings in America, the NRA can no longer be considered viable or relevant. If it doesn’t moderate its position, these treacherous assault weapons must be pried from the organization’s cold, dead hands.

The U.S. Constitution is not, and was never intended to be, inviolate. It has, and it must, change with the times. Government must have the power to regulate assault weapons — just as it has the power to ban smoking in public places or require the use of seat belts — neither of which could have been foreseen by our founding fathers. (Also, see suffrage for women and the abolition of slavery.)

I had hoped President Obama would address the gun control issue when he spoke in Newtown Sunday night. His remarks were sensitive and consoling, but I think he missed, once again, an opportunity to say what must be said. I kept thinking to myself, “OK, Mr. President, but what are you going to DO? Specifically, what are you going to DO?”

If Barack Obama is the man I think he is, the man I hope he is, the man I’ve voted for two times now, he ultimately will be remembered as the president who led the fight to bring some sanity to the issue of gun ownership in America.

tgustavson@timesreview.com