KINGSTON, NY — Revolutionary War-area reenactors are canceling events over fears of prosecution under new state gun laws, but state officials say the new rules do not ban the living history events.
Ulster County Archivist and City of Kingston Historian Taylor Bruck, a member of the First Ulster Militia, a local Revolutionary War re-enactment group that hosts several events, said his group had a Sept. 3 camp at the Matthewis Persen House in Uptown Kingston canceled the law that went into effect.
Bruck said local reenactors also met with other groups earlier this month to find a way forward and events have been canceled – like one attended by the Ulster Militia at Fort Klock, a historic site in St. Johnsville in the Mohawk Valley, wanted to travel the first weekend in October.
Bruck said he was concerned the law could put the brakes on plans for a 2023 revival of the Burning of Kingston, a re-enactment commemorating the Oct. 16, 1777 fire of Kingston, New York state’s first capital British General John Vaughan during the Revolutionary War. It would be the first time since 2017 that a full-scale Burning of Kingston event has taken place.
The group also plans to host another “burn” in 2025 before holding a much larger event in 2027 to mark the 250th anniversary of the historic event, he said.
Bruck said part of the law that includes muzzle-loading flintlock and black powder rifles within the legal definition of “rifle” has fueled fears among reenactmentists of being hit with crime weapon attacks if they bring their muskets to popular historical sites.
“It says that flintlock guns are classified as guns that cannot be on public property,” Bruck said. “Reenactors don’t want to take risks – it’s a crime, it’s a big risk.”
The law lists several sensitive locations where firearms, including rifles and shotguns, are prohibited, including state parks and museums along schools, hospitals, federal, state and local government offices, theaters, stadiums and places of worship.
However, state officials said these bans do not apply to the reproduction of flintlock muskets worn by reenactors.
“Governor Hochul passed new public safety laws to protect New Yorkers and protect them from gun violence,” Dan Keefe, public information officer for the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, said in a statement. “These laws allow for historical re-enactments, and we will work with legislators and local law enforcement to ensure these events can take place legally and safely.”
“Historical reenactments have never been affected by New York’s updated gun laws,” Mike Murphy, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, D-Yonkers, who along with Zellnor Myrie, the Democratic Senator from Brooklyn, and the Democratic Senator from Manhattan , Brian, Kavanagh helped draft the law.
“New restrictions on sensitive locations apply only to concealed carry, which never implied long guns,” Murphy said. “As any historical re-enactor also knows, the prop firearms used are never fired and are often deactivated, further exempting them from these regulations.”
Bruck said he hasn’t heard from state parks officials about an exemption, but he’s glad to hear “it’s on their radar.” He said reenactors want to see such an exception before going back onto the field.
As for the event at Persen House, he said after speaking to Nina Postupack, Ulster County Clerk, the members of the reenactment group realized they could not carry their muskets due to the law and broke camp.
“The militia said they didn’t want to do war reenactments unless they brought their muskets,” he said. “The reenacting community is frustrated and canceled because they were upset about it. Who still uses flintlock rifles? It seemed geared towards re-enactment.”
Bruck said he believes it was more of an oversight on the part of state legislatures, and unfortunately the bill was passed using that language. He said he plans to contact the Ulster County Attorney for comment on the new law and to brief Sen. Michelle Hinchey, D-Saugerties, on the drafting of a formal reenactors exemption.
State lawmakers will not want to sacrifice the heritage tourism money or potential upcoming federal funding that such events bring in, Bruck said. “I can’t imagine them wanting to cancel reenactments with the 250th anniversary of the Revolutionary War coming up.”
When asked if re-enactments could simply focus on civilian activities such as cooking and trading, Bruck noted that battle re-enactments still attract the most tourists and without them, visitor numbers would fall sharply.
“Right now people are coming to the big fight,” he said.
However, Bruck noted that the living history community has increased its efforts in recent years to go beyond battle reenactments. He pointed to the militia inviting Harambee to share more about Black history during the Revolutionary War at a smaller event commemorating the Kingston burning in 2019.
“We also want to tell more about the indigenous history, and the history that is largely ignored,” Bruck said.