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Schoharie County supervisors vote to defy SAFE Act

Friday, March 15, 2013
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— Schoharie County supervisors will be informing state officials by mail that the county will not spend a dime enforcing the state’s new gun control law.

Anger and resentment have been growing in the rural county ever since Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state Legislature rushed passage of the NY SAFE Act in January with no debate or public hearings, and county officials had harsh words for the law they see as both an unfunded mandate and intrusion on people’s rights.

Supervisor Larry Bradt, R-Carlisle, offered two resolutions during the board’s monthly meeting Friday, one to defy enforcement of the law and the other to demand Assemblyman Peter Lopez, R-Schoharie, and Sen. James Seward, R-Oneonta, vote “no” on any state budget proposal that includes money to enforce the law.

Both were approved following discussion that drew applause from residents attending the meeting.

The NY Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act, or SAFE Act, made New York the first state to ban magazines that hold more than seven rounds while requiring a background check for ammunition purchases.

It establishes a five-year recertification of pistol permits and orders mental health professionals to report to officials when patients give reason to believe they might harm others or themselves — reports that could then be cross-checked with a new gun registration database.

If the state finds out that person has a license and a gun, “the license will be suspended and law enforcement will be authorized to remove the person’s firearm,” according to an outline of the law’s provisions on Cuomo’s website.

Guns considered “assault weapons” that are already in the possession of residents have to be registered with the state within one year and then re-registered every five years.

Friday’s discussion in Schoharie yielded the most defiance yet among the local governments in the Capital Region that have voiced concern over the new law.

Bradt said by his count, 50 New York counties have voiced opposition to the law and he’s received dozens of letters from military veterans saying they feel betrayed by the state government.

Resolutions opposing the NY SAFE Act have been approved in Fulton, Montgomery and Saratoga counties and legislators in Schenectady County recently supported a measure asking the state to revisit the law and conduct public hearings.

Bradt criticized what he believes are the state’s unchecked intrusions. He pointed to legislation now being considered in Albany that would require any gun owner to acquire a $1 million liability insurance policy.

Bradt said estimates from insurance agents put the annual cost of such a policy at $1,600 to $2,200.

“So what they’re trying to do is price our rights way from us,” he said.

Several supervisors criticized the governor for invoking a “message of necessity” provision allowing the state to bypass public input on the law — and they contend numerous state legislators didn’t even read the bill before voting on it.

Supervisor Gene Milone, D-Schoharie, said Schoharie County has to take a stand against unfunded mandates. “It’s time to stand up and say no,” he said.

Supervisor Daniel Singletary, R-Jefferson, said he was sympathetic to the cause but couldn’t support the measure for fear of violating his oath of office. He said he believes county supervisors derive their authority from New York state government.

“It’s an extraordinary step … and I think the ramifications can be even more extraordinary,” he said.

Supervisor Earl Van Wormer III, R-Esperance, said “home rule,” a principle in New York state government that allows municipal governments to make their own decisions, should prevail.

“For us to choose not to enforce, that should be our right. This is a home-rule state,” he said. “They wanted to do this. … They circumvented all their normal procedures, let them enforce the law.”

Supervisor Robert Mann Jr., R-Blenheim, said he agreed with the sentiment but suggested the county board ask Sheriff Tony Desmond for his thoughts before deciding. “Normally, we’ve never asked the sheriff not to enforce a state law,” he said.

Desmond, a retired state trooper and veteran, said he not only agreed with the board but urged them to take their resolution a step further.

He said the law would still be bad even if it were passed with public comment.

“It’s a piece of garbage no matter how long it took to pass it,” Desmond said.

He said it’s the right of the people of Schoharie County to possess guns so long as they are not used for illegal purposes, and he suggested the county assure residents their local government is behind them.

“I think we need to state the stand that we are not going to let the state take guns away from them … we’re not going to let anybody take them,” Desmond said before the board room erupted in applause.

 
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