Sheriffs: Cuomo asked for Silence
The sheriffs thought they were being summoned to
the Capitol to discuss ideas for changes to New
York’s gun control law, the SAFE Act. Instead,
Gov. Andrew Cuomo told them to keep quiet.
Opposition to the new law has simmered in upstate
areas since Cuomo signed the law in January. Many
county sheriffs oppose it, particularly its
expanded definition of banned assault weapons,
and have spoken out around the state. In January,
the New York State Sheriffs’ Association wrote
Cuomo with an analysis, and later suggested tweaks.
Cuomo invited its leaders to the Capitol last
month, people briefed on the meeting said. The
group included Sheriffs’ Association Executive
Director Peter Kehoe and Chemung County Sheriff Christopher Moss.
“We didn’t get a response (to the analysis) from
him, but we could tell after the budget was
passed that none of those recommendations were
taken into consideration,” Moss said. “When we
got there, we never got to the contents of the letter.”
Instead, Cuomo pushed the sheriffs to stop
publicly speaking out against the act, Moss said.
“The governor was of the opinion that the
sheriffs around the state should not be
interjecting their personal opinions in reference
to the law,” Moss said, adding that Cuomo said
sheriffs can’t do that and enforce the law.
One person briefed on the meeting said Cuomo
threatened to remove sheriffs from office, a
little-used power afforded the state’s chief
executive under the state constitution. Moss
would not confirm this. He did say the meeting
was heated at times, but overall he described it as “cordial.”
Kehoe did not return calls, and Cuomo spokesman
Rich Azzopardi declined to comment. An
administration official, speaking anonymously
because he was not authorized to discuss a
private meeting, “strongly” denied Cuomo had threatened to remove any sheriff.
Last week, the Sheriffs’ Association as well as
several elected sheriffs filed an amicus curiae
brief supporting a federal challenge to the SAFE Act.
“We’re not really protesting the law; we’re
protesting the methodology in which the law was
forced upon the people without input of the
people,” said Livingston County Sheriff John
York, a Republican who chairs the group’s executive committee.
Erie County Sheriff Tim Howard has said he “won’t enforce” the act.
Cuomo has said the law will “save lives.”
The law broadened the definition of banned
assault weapons, increased penalties for illegal
gun possession, reduced public access to gun
permit information and required mental health
professionals to report concerns about a
gun-owning patient who posed a risk of harming
himself or others. It bans any magazine with the
capacity to accept more than 10 rounds, and bars
people from loading magazines with more than seven cartridges.
The bill was unveiled on Jan. 14 and passed
through a “message of necessity” that waived a
three-day waiting period. The Senate, led by a
Republican-dominated coalition, passed the bill
by a 43-18 vote hours after the text became
public. The Democrat-dominated Assembly passed it
the next day, and Cuomo signed it.
In the amicus brief, the sheriffs wrote: “Law
enforcement’s work is made more difficult
attempting to enforce unclear laws that harm,
rather than promote, public safety. The laws
appear willfully blind to legitimate safety
interests, and instead are tailored to impact,
and negatively impact, law-abiding firearm owners.”
Asked last week about the court brief, Cuomo
said, “They’re free to litigate — God bless America.”
He did not directly say if he thought sheriffs
should speak out against laws they enforce, but
said, “They’re politicians. They run for office, too.”
On Monday, Cuomo said Rensselaer County Clerk
Frank Merola was “not upholding the law” when he
said last week he would refuse to release
permit-holder information. The law allows permit
holders to make their information exempt from
state Freedom of Information Law disclosure if
they apply and meet set criteria.
Merola, a Republican, said that sifting through
the applications would take resources his office
cannot spare. Instead, he will not release any pistol permit data.
“That’s not for a county clerk to do on a blanket
basis,” Cuomo said. “You can’t decide what the
law is or change the law — their job is to enforce the law administratively.”
Sheriffs-Continue to Speak Out
I reported this morning about a meeting between
Gov. Andrew Cuomo and leaders of the New York
State Sheriffs’ Association, during which Cuomo
told the sheriffs to keep quiet about the SAFE Act.
Many sheriffs, who are elected on the county
level, oppose the law and have said so publicly.
The Sheriffs’ Association as well as several
elected sheriffs last week signed an amicus brief
supporting a federal court challenge to the new
gun control law. One of the named parties was
Putnam County Sheriff Donald Smith, the past-president of the association.
I reached out to Smith as I reported the article.
He said he did not attend the meeting with Cuomo,
who has said the SAFE Act will save lives. Smith did offer these thoughts:
“I have joined in the amicus brief because I feel
so strongly that what is at stake in this case is
a basic, fundamental and constitutional right of
our citizens. All our rights as set forth in the
Declaration of Independence and the Constitution
are put at risk if citizens are stripped of their
ability to defend themselves in accordance with
the Second Amendment of the Bill of Rights. The
Second Amendment is about more than hunting and
target shooting—it’s about good citizens being
able to protect themselves and their families
against threats to their life, liberty and pursuit of happiness.”
“One of my deepest concerns is that drug dealers,
gang members, and felons will always skirt the
laws to obtain any kind of gun they want and thus
the strictures on gun ownership in the new law
will effectively penalize only law abiding
citizens. Similarly, such drug dealers, gang
members and felons are not going to abide by the
restriction against loading more than seven
bullets in the guns they carry. The only sure
effect of those provisions of the law will be to
put innocent gun owners at a potentially fatal
tactical disadvantage against better armed criminals.”
“Although law enforcement officers are trained,
equipped and ready to respond to acts of armed
violence, their response time is often measured
in minutes, while in many instances, citizens
under attack have just seconds to ward off harm.
Here in Putnam County we have one of the most
well-armed communities in New York State, with
over 10% of our residents having handgun
licenses, and Putnam County has had the lowest
crime rate in the State of New York for three consecutive years.”
“We are a nation of laws, in which the rule of
law must be observed. We in law enforcement
cannot cherry-pick the laws we like and choose to
enforce only the ones we favor, because that is a
slippery slope that leads ultimately to anarchy.
Instead, when we perceive that a law is not well
designed and will not promote the public good, we
have a duty to do what we can within the legal
processes to oppose and change that law and to
help craft a better one. That is what I and so
many of my colleagues in law enforcement are trying to do in this case.”