When Henk Merison spoke of growing up in Holland when it was under the control of the Nazis, the memories brought a look of fear to the 81-year-old’s eyes.
Mr. Merison and his wife, Corrie, both natives of Holland and longtime residents of Belfast in Allegany County, recently sat down with me to speak about their home country and memories from World War II. Mr. Merison’s reasons for sharing his story are due to his fear with the current gun control laws in the state, and parallels he believes exist with gun registration and confiscation in Holland more than 70 years ago.
“As George Santayana said ‘Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,’” he said of the famous philosopher.
As a member of the national and local Tea Party, Mr. Merison said he believes the state and national governments are altering the Second Amendment to the Constitution, which essentially protects the right to keep and bear arms.
The senseless and horrible murder of 20 schoolchildren and six educators in Newtown, Conn., in December by a mentally ill gunman brandishing a semiautomatic weapon with a high-capacity magazine served as a catalyst for much of the current gun-control legislation. In New York state, Gov. Andrew Cuomo was the first governor in the nation to respond by proposing new gun control laws.
The New York SAFE Act includes lowering the limit on magazine capacity and expanding the state’s assault weapons ban to include some popular and formerly legal semiautomatic rifles. The law, passed by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Cuomo on Jan. 15, also requires registration of an estimated one million older guns.
The new law created outrage with some groups across the state and resulted in gun-rights rallies in several communities, including Olean. The Feb. 23 rally in Lincoln Park was attended by several hundred people, as well as legislators or their representatives, and sheriffs from the Twin Tiers.
The overall message delivered by law enforcement and representatives who spoke was the belief that government was overstepping its constitutional boundaries with the new gun laws. Other comments from these same speakers included remarks that the country would be better served if it addressed the problems of untreated mental illness and criminals who use guns.
Mr. Merison essentially shared the same beliefs in his comments on the current gun laws.
He said his uneasiness stems from childhood memories when his home country was occupied by the Germans from 1940 to 1945. Shortly after the Germans invaded the Netherlands in May of 1940, pre-war lists of registered guns in Holland were used by the Nazis to confiscate firearms from homes. And therein lies Mr. Merison’s alarm with current registration.
Witnessing an all-out invasion of one’s defenseless country, and the violence that accompanied it, can change one’s world view. His father, who hid Jews in his home and saved their lives, was later sent to a concentration camp when the Germans learned of his deeds.
While his father survived, and the family made it through the war, it left a lasting impression on Mr. Merison. He grew up and became a fighter pilot and moved to the United States with his wife in 1959. During his life in the United States, Mr. Merison worked as a technician as well as at other jobs in the region before his retirement several years ago.
While he loves the country, he also remains steadfast in believing the new gun-control laws are taking the nation down a capricious path.
“There is only one reason for gun control and that is so you can disarm the people so you can control them,” he claimed. “We should force our federal government to stick to the Constitution.”
Whether his views are radical and ignore a country’s attempt to stem gun violence, or are a forecast of the future, remains to be seen.
(Contact Kate Day Sager at email@example.com)