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December 5, 2013

Sheriffs oppose use of logos on SAFE website

By Joe Mahoney The Daily Star
Cooperstown Crier

---- — Three local sheriffs said Monday they don’t want their county’s seals or logos used in a state website being designed for pistol permit recertification, adding another round of controversy to New York’s new gun laws.

One prong of the multi-faceted SAFE Act, enacted in Albany last January after the massacre of school children and teachers in Connecticut, requires that pistol permits be reviewed every five years. The permits, under the law, can be canceled if officials determine a gun owner is out of compliance with regulations.

That particular mandate went relatively unnoticed last year, as the more immediate impact from the legislation was on the owners and would-be purchasers of certain guns the SAFE Act classifies as assault weapons. The sale of those firearms is now banned.

On Wednesday, the Otsego County Board of Representatives is set to take up a proposed resolution that would call on the state to refrain from using the county seal or logo in the administration of the pistol permit recertification requirement. Sheriff Richard Devlin Jr. said he suggested the resolution after learning from the state Sheriff’s Association that state officials have discussed including county seals in a new website where handgun owners could apply for recertification.

“We feel this would make a lot of additional work for the county,” Devlin told The Daily Star. He said the county is not involved in promoting the SAFE Act and had no role in forcing pistol owners to recertify their permits every five years as the new law requires.

“People are going to end up thinking this is a county website when it’s not,” Devlin said. He added that he would prefer to see the legislation repealed by state lawmakers.

Thomas Mills and Tony Desmond, the sheriffs of Delaware and Schoharie counties, respectively, both said the state should refrain from putting any county’s seal on the pistol permit website unless it specifically receives the permission of the county in question.

“I know I wouldn’t be happy with it if they went ahead and did that,” said Mills, noting there are an estimated 15,000 valid pistol permits in Delaware County.

Desmond said he plans to ask his county Board of Supervisors to draw up a resolution similar to the one that Otsego County will act on this week.

State officials contacted by The Daily Star said they had no immediate information on how state government plans to go about administering the recertification requirement for handgun owners. They also said they had no information on just when the effort will begin.

Darcy Wells, the director of public information for the State Police, said the recertification requirement won’t kick in until 2018. “The state is already working with county officials to provide support and assistance as they get ready for the recertification process,” she said. “As part of that effort the state is providing website support in coordination with counties that are getting ready for this process.”

Asked when the recertification effort will be launched, Wells said that will be up to the individual counties, other than in the eight counties that already had a renewal requirement before the state law took effect.

The State Police is the agency that acts as the central repository of pistol permit records.

When he signed the SAFE Act into law last January, Gov. Andrew Cuomo stated: “This legislation is not about hunters, sportsmen, or legal owners who use their guns appropriately. It is about reducing gun violence and making New York a safer place to live.”

In September, Cuomo, reacting to police officials who have decried the law’s impact on law-abiding gun owners, said, “It’s not really up to law enforcement to pick and choose what laws they like and what laws they don’t like.”

Peter Kehoe, the executive director of the New York State Sheriff’s Association, told The Daily Star that some sheriffs felt it was “a bad idea” when they learned the state may be using county seals on a state website for pistol permit renewals.

“We think they need permission to use the logos and the seals,” Kehoe said. They (state officials) were hoping to use them. But I think it would be overbearing to use the official seals of the counties without the counties’ permission.”

The idea of using county seals on a website to administer a program being mandated by the state also didn’t sit well with Otsego County Clerk Kathy Sinnott-Gardner. “There’s no way I’m putting my seal on that,” she said. “The state made this decision so they can put their own seal on it.”

The proposed resolution that the Otsego County board will tackle Wednesday was teed up by the board’s Public Safety Committee, led by county Rep. James Powers, R-Butternuts.

Powers argued that the SAFE Act not only fails to enhance public safety but could end up jeopardizing it. “We have a lot of good old boys out here in the woods with guns,” Powers said, “and the last thing you want to do is poke them in the eye with something like this.”

Powers said he views the governor as “a thug” who has placed restrictions on legal gun owners while advocating for tax breaks for a film industry that glorifies violence. He noted that recent reports indicated that the mass murderer in Newtown, Conn., was a regular viewer of violent video games.

Thomas King, the head of the New York State Rifle and Pistol Association, said he was pleased to learn some counties are now trying to disassociate themselves from the state’s effort to administer pistol permits renewals.

King, whose group is waging a court battle in an effort top have the SAFE Act overturned, said he suspects that the state will lean on county governments to ultimate over the processing of pistol permits.

Their attitude is: “We are going to change the rules and you can’t do anything about it,’” he said.

King also maintained the recertification requirement should not be imposed on people who have owned guns safely and have had no criminal convictions. “This is an invasion of our private lives and our freedoms,” he said.

He estimated that between 4 million and 6 million New Yorkers own firearms, and of that group approximately 1.25 million people have pistol permits.

After the legislation was enacted, the state police assigned several investigators to staff a hotline set up to respond to questions from the public about the new requirements on gun owners.

That hotline can be reached at (855) LAW-GUNS.