Law enforcement among those who seek to change Cuomo’s NY SAFE gun control law; County Legislature to vote on resolution soon
Law enforcement associations have been out front blasting Governor Cuomo’s hastily passed NY SAFE Act that makes New York the gun control capital of the United States.
It’s not only the fact that the law failed to make exemptions for active duty and retired police officers, that has them annoyed, it’s some of the contents of the bill itself and the way Cuomo used extraconstitutional means to pass it in the middle of the night. Cuomo utilized a “message of necessity,” normally reserved for genuine emergencies, to bypass the mandatory three days of debate on the bill. He also failed to consult with concerned parties about how the bill should be constructed.
The NY SAFE Act dominated discussion at a weeklong conference of the New York State Sheriff’s Association in January. Nearly 90 percent of the sheriffs present–52 of 58 including Rockland Sheriff Louis Falco–asked for changes to be made in the law. Donald B. Smith, president of the Legislative Committee of the Association, said, “There are…a number of provisions which cause us concern, and which we think should be revisited.”
While praising some features of the bill, the Sheriffs Association criticized many other important aspects. A position paper agreed upon by the 52 sheriffs stated, “We have reviewed other provisions of the new law, and strongly believe that modifications are needed to clarify the intent of some of these new provisions and that revisions are needed to allow sheriffs to properly enforce the law in their counties.”
The features of the bill sheriffs would like amended included:
- Assault weapon ban and definition of assault weapons. The Sheriffs Association stated the new definition of assault weapons is too broad, and prevents the possession of many weapons that are legitimately used for hunting, target shooting and self defense. The Sheriffs Associations opined, “Classifying firearms as assault weapons because of one arbitrary feature effectively deprives people the right to possess firearms which have never before been designated as assault weapons.”
And continued, “We are convinced that only law abiding gun owners will be affected by these new provisions, while criminals will still have and use whatever weapons they want.”
- Inspection of schools by state agencies. The new law transfers to state agencies the responsibility to review school safety plans. The Sheriffs Association stated that they expect funding will be transferred to these state agencies to implement safety proposals. Currently sheriffs and local police provide this service in all parts of the state. The Sheriffs Association “believes sheriffs are in the best position to know the security needs of schools in their own counties, and the state should help to fund these existing efforts by Sheriffs and local police departments to keep schools safe.”
- Reduction of ammunition magazine capacity. The new law enacts reductions in the maximum capacity of gun magazines. The sheriffs believe “based on years of law enforcement experience” that this will not reduce gun violence. The new law will unfairly limit the ability of law-abiding citizens to purchase firearms in New York. The Sheriffs Association letter said, “It bears repeating that it is our belief that the reduction of magazine capacity will not make New Yorkers or our communities safer.”
- Five year recertification of pistol permit status and registration of existing assault weapons. The new law delegates to the State Police the duty to solicit and receive updated personal information of permit holders every five years in order to maintain these permits. Further, the law requires owners of certain existing firearms now classified as assault weapons to register these with the State Police within one year. The recertification and registration conflict with Sheriffs’ duties regarding issuance of pistol permits.
The Sheriffs Association said that all records should be maintained at the local, and not the state level and that this information should be accessible to those who are responsible for initial investigation of permit applications.
- Sale of ammunition. The new law imposes several new provisions regarding how, and from whom, ammunition can be lawfully purchased. The law should be clarified about the use of the Internet as a vehicle for these sales, out-of-state sales to New York residents, and other issues. Businesses have said that they do not understand the new provisions and are concerned that they will have to cease operations.
- Law enforcement exemptions must be clarified. The Sheriffs Association stated, “The new law has many provisions that might apply to law enforcement officers and there has been much confusion about whether existing law enforcement exemptions continue to apply. We understand that the governor and Legislature have already agreed to review and modify these provisions where necessary, and the sheriffs want to be part of the discussion to make the changes effective. Additionally, the exemptions should apply to retired police and peace officers, and to others in the employ of the sheriff and other police agencies who perform security duties at public facilities and events.”
- Method of bill passage. The Sheriffs’ Association stated that “anytime government decides it is necessary or desirable to test the boundaries of a constitutional right that it should only be done with caution and with great respect for those constitutional boundaries.” The sheriffs continue, “Further, it should only be done if the benefit to be gained is so great and certain that it far outweighs the damage done by the constriction of individual liberty. While many of the provisions of the new law have surface appeal, it is far from certain that all, or even many, of them will have any significant effect in reducing gun violence, which is the presumed goal of all of us.”
The Sheriffs Association concluded their letter with an appeal to the United States and New York Constitution. They stated, “Sheriffs understand their Constitutional obligations and the concerns of constituents. Sheriffs and other law enforcement officers are not called upon by this new legislation to go door-to-door to confiscate any weapons newly classified as assault weapons, and will not do so. Sheriffs represent all the people, and we take an oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of New York. Sheriffs will continue to enforce all laws of the state and will protect the rights of all citizens, including those rights guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of New York.”
While the Legislature and governor have indicated willingness to revise some portions of the bill such as the failure to exempt law enforcement, it appears at this time the Sheriffs Association broader concerns will go unaddressed. Second Amendment activists have tried to bolster a case for changing the law, and over 2,000 showed up for a rally in Albany on Tuesday.
In the Rockland County Legislature the Public Safety Committee unanimously passed a resolution in support of the recommendations of the Sheriffs Association.
It was co-sponsored by former longtime New York and Baltimore detective Legislator Ed Day (R), as well as legislators Chris Carey (R) and Jay Hood (D).
Day said, “It is our goal to send a clear message to Albany on behalf of all the citizens of Rockland that the haste in which the SAFE Act was passed has had a chilling effect on law abiding citizens…Moreover, and as a long time police officer, I believe that compliance with the capacity section of this SAFE Act is an outright abomination that carries with it a substantial risk of serious injury or death to both our police officers and the citizens they are sworn to protect. This observation also extends to those fully trained officers who have retired and are always at the ready to risk their lives to protect this community.”
The resolution will likely be calendared for the next meeting of the full legislature for a full vote on Tuesday, February 19.
Sheriff Lou Falco confirmed to the Rockland County Times that he support the Sheriff Association’s position on the NY SAFE law.
(Portions of this piece were clipped verbatim from the Sheriff’s Association letter)