By Joe Angelino
Tonight, at the stroke of midnight, thousands of normally law-abiding New Yorkers will become criminals.
That’s what happens when laws such as those included in the SAFE Act get enacted in the middle of the night, with little or no discussion because of “Emergency Necessity.” And because there was so much emotion surrounding the invented emergency, legislators on both side of the aisle voted in favor of this government overreach.
For the record here’s how our Chenango County state representatives voted on the SAFE Act in January 2013: Assemblyman Crouch and Finch voted NO against the SAFE Act, along with Senator Seward’s NO vote. Voting YES, in favor of passing the SAFE Act, was then Senator Tom Libous. When one realizes the acronym SAFE stands for the Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act, it appears more thought was put into the clever name than the provisions within the legislation.
Tomorrow morning’s inadvertent criminals are those who failed to re-register their long possessed New York State pistol permits, specifically those who’ve had their license to carry pistols prior to January 15, 2013. According to several sources, New York has approximately 1.2 million pistol permit holders. Of that number, slightly more than 260,000 have renewed their license in accordance with the hastily crafted SAFE Act.
These new offenders aren’t typical criminals. These are people who at some point submitted their fingerprints to the state and FBI for scrutiny and had extensive background checks conducted on their character. Further, some permit holders have been legally carrying their weapons for 50-plus years.
Before anyone makes plans to contact a bail bondsman to spring them out of jail tomorrow, the police of our state have said they don’t plan any arrests for unlicensed possession of handguns. They do plan to educate the public about the responsibilities to renew pistol licenses. This function falls directly on the New York State Police, who are specifically mentioned in the law as the responsible authority for permit renewals. This is a nice fit for the Troopers, because a huge preponderance of New York Sheriffs want nothing to do with enforcement of many provisions of the unpopular SAFE Act, and they’ve said so in writing to our less than gun-friendly Governor.
The SAFE Act has been in place for three years and it’s difficult to see where anyone is safer with it on the books. Long before the SAFE Act there was a multi-year downward trend in violent gun crime in New York. Curiously, between 2015 and 2017 violent gun crime has seen an up-tick in some upstate New York counties according to a study conducted by Buffalo television station WKBW.
Closer to home, Syracuse last year spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to install the “ShotSpotter” system. This ingenious system identifies a shooter’s location using sound waves. My only other experience with ShotSpotter was in Iraq in response to enemy snipers picking off coalition forces. Sorry about the comparison, Syracuse.
Many people feel the SAFE Act just isn’t needed in Upstate New York. Elected officials in 53 of 62 counties – all north of Westchester – voted to repeal portions of this slapdash law. In 2016 Attorney General Eric Shneiderman commissioned a study indicating most of the violent gun crimes in our state happen in New York City, and further, most of those guns used come from out-of-state (Target on Trafficking; NY Gun Crime Analysis, 2016).
The largest city in North America is only a three-hour drive away from Chenango County, but the contrast between the two areas is drastic. It makes sense that New York City needs laws that are different for their different circumstances. I can rattle off a list of laws, written by our state legislators, which are different or specific to the New York City area: vehicle inspections downstate include emissions, long-arms require registration in NYC, recently passed minimum wage laws recognize the difference in downstate and upstate, a myriad of landlord/tenant laws, and the list can go on. When state legislators think rationally, it seems they can distinguish a difference between upstate and downstate when it comes to enacting laws for the people.
In the current 2017-18 legislative session in both the Assembly and the Senate, there are bills that would repeal sections of the SAFE Act for certain portions of New York State, namely upstate. Presently these bills are in the committee phase of deliberation, and there is a long way to go before they become law.
For those who would like to follow the progress of this legislation the bills are numbered; in the Senate, S879C and in the Assembly, A6140. In an election year when the Governor has opposition and all state representatives are running to keep their seats, you never know what political, non-partisan back-scratching will happen.