Assemblyman Steve Katz speaks at a Second Amendment rally in West Capitol Park. Katz recently slammed a bill introduced by Assemblyman Felix Ortiz that would require all gun owners to purchase a $1 million liability insurance policy. Katz has been a vocal critic of the New York SAFE Act since its passage. Photo by Gazette file.
February 25, 2013More than one-third of New York county legislatures have passed resolutions condemning the controversial SAFE Act. The resolutions questioning the law's purpose and the way it was passed come as county clerks express concerns with the new paperwork requirements for gun owners and sheriffs question whether they have the right or responsibility to confiscate firearms now classified as illegal under the new law.
Overall more than 20 of New York's 62 counties, from all corners of the state, have passed resolutions condemning the legislation, while 18 are actively considering passing such resolutions. A website, www.safeactresolutions.com, has also popped up, tracking town and county resolutions against the state's new gun laws. No county has yet come forth officially supporting the legislation.
The New York State Association of Counties drafted its own resolution to "strongly [encourage] members of the New York State Legislature to hold public hearings to address the impact of this new law and the issue of gun violence in a way that will produce meaningful results," according to the official resolution released Feb. 6.
Mark LaVigne, deputy director of NYSAC said not all of the county resolutions are the same. Some resolutions deal with how the law was passed, while others deal specifically with Second Amendment rights. Some such as Herkimer County's resolution, deal specifically with the potential negative economic impact the law could have on the local community, which is host to Remington Arms.
Cattaraugus County, located in western New York, passed its resolution by a 20-1 margin.
Norman Marsh, chairman of the Cattaraugus County Legislature, said the manner by which the SAFE Act was passed in the state Legislature and the controversial nature of the new regulations prompted the vote in his county.
"It wasn't tied down to anything specific, you know," Marsh said. "How things are going to be done ... they didn't exclude the police. It is just really haphazard the way they did it," he said, referring to the state legislators who voted for the SAFE Act.
Marsh says he hopes the resolution will send a message to the legislators representing his county in the state Senate and Assembly.
"I'd like to see them repeal it," he added.
Speakers address a crowd of Second Amendment rights protesters during a recent rally outside the Capitol. County clerks and some sheriff’s departments across the state say the enforcement of the state’s new gun laws on the local level will be costly and burdensome to local governments. Photo by Josefa Velasquez.
Fred Monroe, chairman of the Warren County Legislative Committee, said his legislature's resolution was supported by the constituents in the county and passed by a 17-3 vote. The three 'nay' votes were Democrats, while two other Democrats voted for the resolution. He notes that Warren County has a long history of "hunting, fishing and independence" and the lack of "due process" bothered him and his colleagues, which led to their resolution.
"To use a metaphor, it was more 'ready, fire, aim,'" Monroe said. "It was an undemocratic process."
Monroe said he would like to see the SAFE Act repealed and the state Legislature start over and "do it with proper due process."
Schoharie County Chairman of the Board of Supervisors, Philip Skowfoe Jr, a Democrat, also voted for the resolution passed in his county. Skowfoe is an Army veteran who has served as a county supervisor for 16 years. He has had a pistol permit since 1968.
"We believe in the Second Amendment. We believe they are infringing on it," Skowfoe said.
The county's Board of Supervisors' resolution passed 15-1. He, too, would like to see the state revisit the laws passed last month.
"You shouldn't make decisions on such short notice without talking to your constituents to find out how they want you to vote," he said. "They got to remember they were put there by the people that voted for them."
A rally against the SAFE Act is planned on Main St. in Schoharie for March 16.
John Syracuse, a Republican Niagara County legislator from Newfane, sponsored his county's resolution, which passed unanimously on Feb. 19.
"You know, we don't have much authority to affect the governor, the state Legislature's law," he said. "But it was a resolution asking the governor and state Legislature to repeal the SAFE Act."
Syracuse said the resolution he drafted specifically looked at the lack of public discussion regarding the passage of the tough new gun regulations, some of which have not yet gone into effect.
"The way it went through was pretty appalling to most people," he explained. "This was the people's response to the governor and the state Legislature."
In addition to the resolutions passed by the county legislatures, county clerks, who bear the burden of any paperwork related to registering newly-classified assault weapons and renewing pistol permits, also officially oppose the legislation.
The New York State Association of County Clerks released a statement on Feb. 19 condemning the SAFE Act, specifically the burden it places on counties for the SAFE Act's relicensing requirements.
President of the Association of County Clerks, Paul Piperato, who serves as the Rockland County clerk, said he has 17,000 pistol permits on record in his county although many of those permits belong to former and deceased residents, the act of re-certifying even 30 percent of those licenses – as required every five years under the SAFE Act – would be a considerable burden on his office. Rockland County did not require recertification before the SAFE Act requirements.
"I know … the opt-out form [alone] is creating a lot of work on the local level," Piperato said.
The opt-out form allows pistol permit holders to have their records protected from Freedom of Information Law requests. The opt-out option is a reaction to many registered gun owners having their personal information published in newspapers following the Aurora, Colorado and Newtown, Conn. shootings. Piperato said he has had about 350 forms come through his office.
Piperato is hopeful the state designs computer software to ease the burden on county clerks' offices.
Rockland County also passed a resolution condemning the SAFE Act.
The New York State Sheriff's Association released a statement on Jan. 23 praising sections of the SAFE Act such as the enactment of Mark's Law, which gives a life sentence for the murder of a first responder while they are performing in an official capacity, increased penalties for illegal use of weapons and the restriction of FOIL requests to protect gun owners.
However, the association does question other parts of the new regulations, expressing concern there was no exemption for law enforcement to possess magazines with more than seven bullets, disagreeing that the new bullet limit will make communities safer and questioning whether they have the right or responsibility to confiscate firearms made illegal under the new state laws.
The Erie County Sheriff's PBA released a statement on Feb. 3 staunchly opposing the SAFE Act. The statement calls Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Speaker Sheldon Silver "elitist" and calls the law "over-reaching"
The statement read, in part, "There is a widespread misconception that law enforcement officers favor additional restrictions on firearms ownership by law abiding citizens. Nothing could be further from the truth. Rank and file police officers see every day the aftermath of violent criminal attacks on defenseless victims. The uniformed police officers paraded out as window dressing during the signing of these laws are simply lap dogs seeking to further their own political ambitions."
The local reactions to the SAFE Act come on the heels of a pair of demonstrations held in West Capitol Park in Albany, the introduction of legislation by Republican lawmakers to restrict quick passage of state laws in the future and at least one lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the SAFE Act.
A third rally opposing the SAFE Act is being planned for Thursday, Feb. 28 outside the Capitol. Organizers say thousands of demonstrators are planning to attend.