Gun law draws new concerns
Upstate sheriffs decry hasty passage, say it hurts legal owners
Albany bureau chief
Sheriffs from across upstate, including Monroe County’s Patrick O’Flynn, are hoping the state Legislature and Gov. Andrew Cuomo will revisit portions of the new gun-control law, saying the measure was adopted in haste and targets law-abiding gun owners.
Some sheriffs said the law takes positive steps to address mental health issues and access to illegal guns, but they said it also infringes on Second Amendment rights.
“This law has some issues pertaining to the Second Amendment,” said Putnam County Sheriff Donald Smith. “I’m deeply concerned in haste to pass the law, they may have missed the point on some of the mental-health issues and are dealing with some ammunition and gun issues and law-enforcement issues.”
Gov. Andrew Cuomo pushed for the bill’s passage in the wake of the mass shootings in Newtown, Conn., and the ambush attack on first responders in Webster, Monroe County.
O’Flynn said he’s hopeful that some of the concerns of the sheriffs will be included when amendments are made to the law.
“We are meeting right now to develop a response and to ensure at least the views of the sheriffs are reflected in some of the discussions that’s going to go on at the state level,” O’Flynn said. But while he said he supports some of the law’s provisions, he took issue with how the law was passed. “There’s some portions of the law that make sense and something we can relate to and be able to see some significant benefit from, when you are talking about some of the penalties,” he continued. “But the way it was passed, it was passed very rapidly, so we weren’t able to have much discussion prior to it.”
The new law, passed just hours after it was printed, is the toughest in the nation and includes tougher rules on assault weapons, as well as a lowering of the number of bullets allowed in a magazine from 10 to seven.
Cuomo said last week that the lower magazine capacity would help save lives.
“I understand the benefit of a high-capacity in a situation like self-protection,” he said on an Albany radio show. “On the other hand, I understand the danger of a high-capacity magazine when it falls into the wrong hands. When you weigh the danger, I say reasonable regulation. It’s not worth having the assault weapons around because they can do more harm than good.”
Chemung County Sheriff Christopher Moss said the change in magazine size would do little to limit gun violence.
“Do you think bad guys are going to put seven clips in a round as opposed to 10 clips and follow the law?” Moss asked. “I think it’s a law that’s going to be very restrictive on law-abiding citizens as opposed to criminals who it was geared for.”
But Moss, Smith and other sheriffs said they appreciated the intent of the law to limit gun violence, saying it does include steps to address mental health issues that often lead to mass shootings.
Moss said he’s holding two informational meetings in Chemung County next week to address residents’ concerns. He and other sheriffs said police aren’t out to take away guns from law-abiding citizens, and they are being flooded with phone calls from residents with questions about the law.
The state Sheriffs’ Association was expected to release a statement later this week on its official position on the law. The Association of Chiefs of Police said Wednesday that it supports the law, and district attorneys across the state have also praised it. The police chiefs said they are hopeful that the law “will be an additional step toward helping to protect the citizens of New York state, while still respecting the rights of hunters and sportsmen.”
Cuomo’s office has already recognized that amendments to the law are needed. For example, the law currently doesn’t exempt police from the magazine limit — an oversight that state officials said doesn’t put police in violation of the law.
O’Flynn said he wanted to ensure that the law wouldn’t infringe on the strong relationship that police have with Monroe County schools.
“We work daily with the school districts in all of our communities, and we want to make sure what we’ve been doing and the relationship we developed with the school districts is carried on through this legislation,” O’Flynn said.
Some sheriffs have been outspoken in their opposition to the law. In a statement Friday, Steuben County Sheriff David Cole blasted the measure, and the police union there said it supported his position.
“These laws will now make it so thousands and thousands of law-abiding citizens, who go to work, pay their taxes, and (are) concerned about their children’s future, will now be considered criminals if they choose to stand up for the Second Amendment rights guaranteed under the U.S. Constitution,” Cole said.
Livingston County Sheriff John York said a major concern was the fast passage of the law before law-enforcement and the public could offer their opinions.
“It was passed so quickly by a Legislature that didn’t ask or look for input from the law-enforcement community,” York said. “Most importantly, it didn’t look for input from the public. I think the public will make the final decision when it comes to the elections again.”
Broome County Sheriff David Harder said he was hopeful the sides could work out their differences.
“We don’t get to choose what laws we enforce. But we’ll take a look at it and decipher it from there,” Harder said. “There are some good points, and there are some bad points, and the bad points we’re hoping to get straightened out a little more.”