MOHAWK VALLEY – At least one local law enforcement official is satisfied with existing gun control measures in the aftermath of deadly mass shootings at an elementary school in Texas and a supermarket in Buffalo that have brought the long standing debate to the forefront.
Montgomery County Sheriff Jeffery Smith believes existing gun control measures in New York are sufficient. They don’t need to be tightened or loosened in his view.
“I think there are good checks and balances,” Smith said. “We’re a supporter of the Second Amendment. We believe in gun possession and responsible gun ownership.”
The process of obtaining pistol permits and background checks required to legally buy long guns is designed so only individuals with the “proper credentials” may possess firearms, Smith said.
Those who apply for a pistol permit undergo a process through the Sheriff’s Department which requires a criminal history check, mental health review surrounding any previous or ongoing treatment, references from non-relatives, a gun safety course and interactions with law enforcement officials.
In Montgomery County, 4th Judicial District Administrative Judge Felix Catena has the final authority to grant or deny a permit once the process is complete.
Those safeguards alone are not enough to prevent mass shootings, Smith acknowledged, while suggesting that outlawing guns altogether would not stop mass violence.
“There are bad people in this world who do bad things, sadly,” Smith said. “We can’t blame it on one specific thing, we have to concentrate on everything.”
Yet, Smith admitted that he doesn’t have an answer as to how to end mass shootings. “You could ask that about every crime,” he said.
Law enforcement agencies throughout the county have developed a “high threat incident” plan together focused on preventing and responding to attacks, Smith said.
Furthermore, officers have worked with schools and other possible “soft targets” to improve security and implement other protective changes.
“I feel we’re in a good spot, but that doesn’t mean it couldn’t happen here. We could do everything and it still could happen,” Smith said.
He strongly encourages children and adults to be alert to their surroundings or any sudden changes in behavior and to report anything suspicious.
The Sheriff’s Department also provides active shooter training upon request throughout the community based on the Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter and Evacuate (ALICE) model. Smith said the training has been provided at schools, daycares, municipal offices, churches and more.
The most recent training was delivered at Our Lady of Hope Catholic Church in Fort Plain where Deacon Joseph Cechnicki said parishioners were unsettled after a woman began shouting during the Easter Sunday service in light of recent mass shootings at houses of worship.
“It made everybody aware that maybe we need to look at this a little differently,” Cechnicki said. “As a church we welcome everybody, but we need to make sure we’re not naive.”
Learning how to improve building security, what to look out for and how to react if an attack ever occurred at the church was reassuring for members, Cechnicki said.
Although he has always felt safe at the church, Cechnicki admitted the increasing frequency of mass shootings is frightening.
“I don’t know what they can do to decrease this,” Cechnicki said. “If they control the guns for the general population, the criminals are going to be the ones that have guns and they can always get guns.”
Smith plans to submit information about Montgomery County’s ALICE plan to New York state as part of his compliance with Gov. Kathy Hochul’s executive order requiring counties to review and provide the state with a report about how they enforce New York state’s Red Flag law, also known as an ‘extreme risk protection order law.’ New York state’s Red Flag law allows teachers, school administrators, mental health professionals, and law enforcement to seek a court order to temporarily seize firearms from a person who appears to be a danger to themselves or others and to temporarily suspend a person’s ability to purchase firearms.
Smith said he can only recall one time that Montgomery County has had to use the Red Flag, and that involved a case with the Fulton County Sheriff’s office where the person was located in Montgomery County, but the person’s guns were in Fulton County. He said he knows the New York State Police have used the Red Flag law a few times in Montgomery County, but his department was not involved in those cases.
“It’s something that hasn’t come up that often for us, which is a good thing,” Smith said.
Fulton County Sheriff Richard Giardino said his department has used the Red Flag law twice since it passed in 2019.
“We have a tight balancing act between a person’s constitutional rights, and this law allows for a family member, a school, law enforcement or a doctor to make an application to [County] Supreme Court, and then you’re entitled to a hearing,” Giardino said. “We have not come up with any new plans since [Hochul] signed [her Red Flag executive order] last week. We don’t have a new policy, our policy is that the law’s there, and we have to enforce it.”
The Niskayuna Police Department, Schenectady Police Department and the Schenectady County Sheriff’s Office did not return requests for comment.
Reach Ashley Onyon at [email protected] or @AshleyOnyon on Twitter. Jason Subik may be reached at [email protected]