State Assembly Members Take Issue With New Gun Legislation

Many Republicans in the state Assembly took issue with legislation signed earlier this week allowing local and state law enforcement officers more access to an individual’s information on a firearm license application.

The legislation (S.6160/A.7739) passed the state Assembly 101-46 at the end of the legislative session in June. Both Assemblyman Andrew Goodell, R-Jamestown, and Joe Giglio, R-Gowanda, voted against the legislation. The legislation passed the state Senate, 41-21.

When the SAFE Act was enacted in 2013, it included a provision that allows handgun license-holders and applicants to request that their application information be exempt from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Law. Language to provide that local and state law enforcement would still be able to access to this information was not included. Due to this omission in the law, this information is not currently released to law enforcement at the local level.

Assemblyman Kieran Lalor, R-East Fishkill, asked Assemblywoman Amy Paulin, D-Scarsdale and sponsor of the bill, if the legislation is an expansion of the SAFE Act. Paulin described it as a clarification of the SAFE Act. County clerks have said they can’t give out the information police agencies are requesting because gun owners signed forms opting out of making the information publicly available. The New York State Police can provide the information, but only from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Lalor asked Paulin if a judicial subpoena, court warrant or probably cause would be needed for police officers to receive the information, to which Paulin responded they will not.

Recently a piece of legislation was signed that when the Department of Motor Vehicles had a request from federal law enforcement for information about a person who was in the country illegally, when federal law enforcement asks for that information, to get it they have to have a subpoena or they had to have a warrant,” Lalor said in his remarks on the bill. “Now we’re saying an American citizen, a lawful citizen, a registered gun owner who has followed the law, they don’t have the protections of a subpoena. They don’t have the protections of a judicial warrant. It is clear that the SAFE Act was, as we know, passed in the middle of the night, wasn’t thought through. This is an expansion of the SAFE Act that wasn’t included in the original bill. For those and other reasons I’m opposed to it.”

Paulin said without access to the information, police officers responding to dangerous situations don’t know if an individual has a gun or if a gun is likely to be inside a house. Having the information, she said, would allow law enforcement to take extra precautions to provide for their safety and the safety of others in the home.

“You can’t protect all cases , obviously, but at least you can protect some,” she said. “This came out of local law enforcement’s wanting this information, believing this kept them safer. This was a request from local law enforcement. So if they believe it’s going to make them safer going into these situations, it’s not (for) me to judge their assessment of their safety. It’s (for) them to judge their assessment of their safety. They fully support it and they want to see this legislation enacted.”

Paulin said in Westchester County, the county clerk’s office did not feel it was legally allowed to give the information out to local police agencies under the SAFE Act FOIL opt-out clauses. The SAFE Act included language that a statewide license and record database was to be compiled, but in the nearly seven years since the SAFE Act’s passage the database is not complete. Paulin and Republican Michael Montesano, R-Glens Head, both expressed frustration that the database is unfinished. Montesano said in his district, which includes Nassau County, the county police department issues gun permits, so police have information regarding registered guns readily available when they arrive at a call because they have access to the county’s database. Montesano said the fact the information can be shared already between police agencies indicates to him that the issue is administrative and doesn’t require state legislation to address.

“It just shocks me that in the rest of this state our sheriff’s department, our local police departments are not linked in to either the database that the county clerk or issuing authority might have,” Montesano said. “Because I know there are different issuing authorities for gun permits, that they’re not linked to them. I seriously think this is an administrative issue to be cleared up by the New York State Police and local law enforcement and I don’t think it requires a piece of legislation because the county clerks are correct. If people opted out from FOIL requests when they were permitted to do so by law, then in order to get around it either the law enforcement has to put in their FOIL request or get a subpoena.”

Montesano also asked what happens if the legislation passes and county clerks can give police the information they request. Those clerks still won’t work nights or weekends, and Montesano wanted to know how police would get the information under those circumstances. Paulin said law enforcement can get the information in bulk and be able to check it when a call comes in. Montesano also asked what happens when a gun owner is either added or deleted from the list. Paulin said local police do the investigations of new gun owners, so local police could keep that information or ask county clerks to send a weekly or monthly list of new approvals.

“So in Nassau and in Suffolk, you have a countywide police system,” Paulin said. “we do not have that, for instance, in Westchester and in much of the rest of the communities outside of or north of New York City. “So it’s not as connected as simply as the Nassau County Police getting access through the Nassau County clerk’s information. That’s much more compatible. Here this was a small local community in the county of Westchester that approached the Westchester county clerk and they did not believe that the law permitted them without this clarification to give the information to the local community. So this is simply a clarification until there is a statewide database, and if you don’t think that I tried very hard to get it to them administratively you would be wrong. I tried very hard.”

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