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Auburn Plaza welcoming new tenant from down Grant Avenue, relocating another

Auburn Plaza will be the sight of some movement in the coming months as it welcomes a tenant from Grant Avenue and relocates another.

LZ Army Navy will move to the plaza from its current location at 393 Grant Ave. in Sennett. The new store will be located where GJP Italian Eatery was, and its grand reopening is scheduled for May 1.

Store manager Dawn Baker said Thursday that LZ is moving because it has outgrown its current location. Opened by veteran Ed King more than 25 years ago, the store sells military replicas and artifacts, as well as tactical and camping gear, boots, emergency supplies and more. Baker said the new store will be at least twice the size of the current one.

"It's like I'm in a little mouse maze right now," she said. "It's going to be easier for everyone all the way around."

Meanwhile, current Auburn Plaza tenant Rent-A-Center is moving from its current location in the middle of the plaza to the former site of Hong Kong Buffet.

Michael Wachs, of plaza owner Auburn Associates, said Thursday that the rent-to-own business will go from a 3,600-square-foot space to a 5,000-square-foot one. Wachs added that the new Rent-A-Center will be "the most current prototype" location for the Plano, Texas-based company, which also has a downtown Auburn location at 85-89 Genesee St. 

Rent-A-Center has been in Auburn Plaza since before Auburn Associates purchased it in 1999, Wachs said.

"It's a real upgrade, a real recommitment," he said.

Wachs said Auburn Associates does not currently have anything to announce regarding the space Rent-A-Center will be vacating. In November, the Auburn Code Enforcement Office issued a permit for an illuminated sign for Harbor Freight Tools, a California-based discount tool and equipment retailer, at Auburn Plaza. Wachs declined comment on the permit.

Wachs said the former Rent-A-Center will be the only empty space at the plaza and Grant Avenue Plaza, which Auburn Associates also owns. He also revealed that Metro Mattress, located in an Auburn Plaza outparcel across from McDonald's, extended its lease for 10 years this week and will remodel the space. The mattress retailer is based in Syracuse.

Children make their own shiny projects at Snowstorm in a Bottle event at Auburn library

AUBURN — Children at Seymour Library devised their own shimmering, swirling vortexes of color — contained in the confines of a plastic bottle.

Children and parents alike poured corn syrup and glitter into bottles half-filled with water to make their creations at the Auburn library's Snowstorm in a Bottle event Friday. Laura Taylor, a clerk at the library who runs some of the children's events in the building, came up with the event after searching online for fun crafts for children.

Before the event began, Taylor laid out several bottles with water inside on a table in one of the children's areas of the library, with one finished snowstorm out for demonstration. Taylor, who had a container of disinfecting wipes by the table at all times in case of any sticky glitter-filled accidents, said she loves seeing the satisfied looks on children's faces when they make crafts from start to finish without their parent's intervention.

"They just get so excited about doing it on their own, how good it came out and just being independent about it," Taylor said.

One child who created their snowstorm mostly without adults hovering around her was Hadley Symons. Despite accidentally pouring the corn syrup onto the sides of the bottle and scattering glitter on her work station with fellow participant Sadie Davis-Shannon, a smile hit Symons' face when she gazed upon her finished product.

Kristin McKee brought her children, Raymond, 8, Emmett, 7, and Natalie, 4, to the event. Emmett in particular poured a generous heap of glitter in his bottle, often tending to the project without Kristin's help. Once he was done, he immediately showed his work to his mother and shook the bottle with both hands several times, stopping in between shakes to see the glitter swish around. Kristin said she wanted to give children a chance to get out of the confines of their home during the mid-winter from school.

"It's school break and they're getting stir crazy, so it's a good chance to get out of the house," Kristin McKee said with a laugh.

Addie Lowery, who decided to come to the building with her mother, who works at the library, said Taylor was the first person she ran into when she came in that morning. The two talked about Lowery helping out to assist the children complete their projects and navigate around potential spills. Lowery, 12, said she enjoyed working with the children immensely. 

"I remember being that old and being mesmerized by glitter in a bottle," Lowery said.

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Rep. John Katko eyes solutions to mass shootings, warms to raising age for gun sales

More than a week after the latest school shooting left 17 people dead, U.S. Rep. John Katko announced Friday that he's supporting or considering several proposals to address gun violence. 

Katko, R-Camillus, said in an interview with The Citizen that one of the proposals he is considering is raising the minimum age for gun sales. Under current federal law, you must be at least 18 years old to buy a shotgun or a rifle from licensed dealers and 21 to buy handguns. 

However, there are loopholes that allow those under the age of 18 or 21 to buy and possess firearms. 

Katko hasn't determined whether the federal age limit should be raised for the purchase of all long guns or if it would be limited to AR-15s and other so-called "assault rifles." 

"I want to study that issue more and get feedback from people, but that's something I want to look at," he said. 

One reason he could support raising the minimum age for gun purchases is the violence young people are exposed to in society, especially in movies and video games. 

"I'm not sure kids are understanding the consequences," he said. 

Another proposal he may support is adopting universal background checks for gun purchases. He said New York already has a "very detailed" background check for gun buyers. 

Katko's position on other gun-related issues is firm. He signed a letter to House Speaker Paul Ryan requesting a vote on legislation to strengthen the existing national background check system. The legislation was first proposed after a mass shooting at a church in Texas that killed 26 people and injured 20 others. 

The gunman in that shooting had a prior domestic violence conviction while serving in the Air Force that should have prevented him from buying a gun. But the Air Force failed to report the conviction to the FBI and it wasn't listed in the background check system. 

The bipartisan bill Katko supports would encourage federal agencies and states to "accurately and promptly submit information and records" for inclusion in the background check database. 

Katko also favors banning bump stocks, which are devices that can be attached to semiautomatic rifles, such as an AR-15. Bump stocks increase the weapon's firing rate. 

Bump stocks received attention in the aftermath of the Las Vegas mass shooting, which killed 58 people and injured more than 800 others. The gunman used bump stocks to carry out his attack. 

Specific to schools, Katko believes that there should be armed officers for every school. Some schools in his district, such as the Auburn and West Genesee school districts, already have school resource officers. But funding has been a challenge for local police departments and school districts to retain the officers. 

There are some federal grants available, Katko said. His staff is reviewing whether the grants are adequate and if they aren't, what would need to be done to meet the demand. 

One of the main issues Katko wants to address as it relates to gun violence is mental health. He mentioned mental health as a priority last week when he issued a statement after the Florida high school shooting. 

"No one ever talks about it in connection with these crimes," he said. "I think that's the big thing that's not being addressed. There's a lot of undertreatment and lack of treatment for individuals with mental health issues." 

Katko is exploring whether the federal government should adopt "red flag laws." A handful of states, including California, have red flag laws that allow police to confiscate guns from people if a judge determines they pose a threat. 

New York doesn't have a red flag law, but the SAFE Act signed in 2013 requires mental health professionals to report if an individual is a threat to harm others. This can result in the individual losing or being prevented from obtaining a gun permit. 

There is one proposal floated by President Donald Trump that Katko is leaning toward not supporting. Trump suggested this week that teachers should be allowed to carry concealed firearms. It was one of several school safety proposals he endorsed after meeting with survivors of the Florida shooting and past mass shootings. 

But Katko said he has heard from teachers who are "vehemently opposed" to allowing educators to carry firearms. 

"I want this to be teacher-driven," he said. "I don't want something to be forced upon them." 

Gun safety will likely be added to an already packed legislative agenda when Katko and his House colleagues return to Washington next week. This was an in-district work week for House members. 

Session resumes Monday in Washington. 

A factor in what, if any, gun safety measures will be considered by Congress is the National Rifle Association. The NRA is a leading gun rights group and has supported many Republican members of Congress, including Katko. 

Katko has an "A" rating from the group and received nearly $12,000 in campaign contributions from the organization's political action committee. 

Some of the proposals mentioned by Katko are opposed by the NRA. The group doesn't believe raising the age for gun sales is a solution. They also oppose universal background checks for gun purchases. 

Katko said he received campaign donations from groups representing the business community, labor and other interests. But he doesn't believe it impacts how he approaches his job as a legislator. 

"I'm not beholden to them at all and I think the facts speak for themselves and what I just outlined for you is probably the best example of that," he said. 

Teachers with guns? NYSUT calls proposal 'misguided'

A proposal to allow educators to carry concealed firearms in schools isn't supported by the state's powerful teachers union. 

New York State United Teachers opposes arming educators in schools. The proposal, which is supported by President Donald Trump, is one of many ideas floated to address school safety. 

Trump also suggested that there could be incentives for teachers who carry guns in schools. 

Andy Pallotta, president of New York State United Teachers, said arming teachers will not boost school safety. 

"Schools must remain sanctuaries for learning and places where parents and the community know that their children are safe," he said. "It is misguided to think, however, that more guns in a school — in the presence of children, and in the hands of educators who don't want them — is an answer." 

That position is shared by many of the state's rank-and-file teachers, including Port Byron physical education teacher Angie Hitchcock. 

Hitchcock, who serves as president of the Port Byron Teachers Association, said arming teachers "is the most asinine thing I've ever heard in my life."

"That is not the answer to this issue," she added. "Putting any guns in a school outside of those carried by trained law enforcement professionals is a horrible idea on many levels." 

One concern Hitchcock raised is that if she was carrying a gun, she could be overpowered and the attacker could snatch the weapon. 

There are several proposals being considered to boost school security. On Thursday, the New York State Sheriffs' Association called on state officials to fund armed officers in every school building in New York

Several schools already have armed police officers. In Auburn, four police officers serve as school resource officers at the Auburn Enlarged City School District's seven campuses. 

There doesn't appear to be an appetite to place armed officers in every school. Gov. Andrew Cuomo dismissed the proposal in interviews. Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie issued a statement to announce his opposition to the proposal. 

Pallotta and the teachers union outlined some initiatives they would support to increase school security. More funding for mental health services in schools to prevent tragedies from occurring is one example. 

But the union believes one of the main actions that should be taken is the adoption of "commonsense gun control measures."

"Lawmakers of both parties must come together and act to protect students, schools and educators," Pallotta said.