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Saratoga County Officials Seeking Distance From Aspects Of SAFE Act

Saratoga County seal
Saratoga County

Local leaders in Saratoga County are taking steps to distance the county from provisions under New York’s SAFE Act, one year after its enactment.

This week, Saratoga County Board of Supervisors’ Law and Finance committee advanced a measure proposed by County Clerk Craig Hayner and Sheriff Michael Zurlo to remove the Saratoga County seal from state-issued letters to county residents requesting pistol permit renewals.

Under the SAFE Act, in March, the state will be sending out 3,000 recertification letters to permit holders in Saratoga County.

Sheriff Zurlo said if pistol permit holders are not in compliance with the law, and after the Supreme Court’s decision to revoke a license, his office will be required to collect the holder’s firearms. Zurlo said collection and storage of firearms is not something his office is willing to do.

"I don't have the man-power or the facilities to store these guns," said Zurlo. "I would try to direct the judge to have either another local police agency or state police to go out and seize these guns."

Pistol permits are processed through the sheriff’s office.

Hadley Supervisor Arthur "Mo" Wright, vice chair of the Law and Finance committee, said he disagrees with the SAFE Act and the inclusion of the Saratoga County seal on the letters to be sent to holders of pistol permits.

"I don't think it was a well thought-out law anyways and I don't see where this is going to protect the American citizens any more than our gun laws already on the books," said Wright. "I think the county's concern is the state wants to use our county seal to put on these letters the state police is going to send out, and just to try to take the burden off of them and put it on the counties to make it look like the county is at fault with this faulty law, and I don't think that's right."

Controversy around the SAFE Act and gun rights has swirled in Saratoga Springs. Protesters have made themselves visible at the gun shows that are held throughout the year at the Saratoga City Center, particularly in January of 2013, just weeks after the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary school.

Saratoga Springs Supervisor Matthew Veitch, chair of the Law and Finance committee, said he expects the measure to pass a vote by the full board on Tuesday afternoon.

Veitch he supports the measure because the SAFE Act puts burdens on county governments.

"The regulations that the SAFE Act put on governments to do re-registrations and add some layers to the processes that we have out there have kind of put an undue burden on the counties, and we don't really feel like we should be a party to that kind of thing," said Veitch.

Veitch said he believes that the law is the law when it comes to the SAFE Act, but is in support of changing some procedural aspects of it.

"For me it's not so much 'SAFE Act - yes or no', it's more of the burden that's put on the county and the procedural part of it that gives me a problem," said Veitch.

Meanwhile Republican State Senator Kathy Marchione of Halfmoon has launched an online petition calling for the repeal of the SAFE Act, calling it unconstitutional.

In December, Buffalo Federal Judge William Skretny ruled the SAFE Act’s banning of assault-style weapons and large-capacity magazines constitutional.

Leah Barrett, Executive Director of New Yorkers Against Gun Violence said opposition to the SAFE Act is influenced by the gun industry lobby, and said the acts of protest from local officials do not surprise her.

"This doesn't surprise us, but it's not representative of the view of most of New Yorkers who see the New York SAFE Act as a law that will protect New Yorkers from gun violence," said Barrett. "All of the provisions are eminently reasonable."

The New York State Rifle and Pistol Association filed a lawsuit last year calling for the repeal of the SAFE Act.

A statement emailed by Saratoga County Clerk Craig Hayner reads:

"As you dig in to this latest action by the State concerning the New York Safe Act, there are more questions than answers provided.

What costs will the county have to absorb for this action? Will it be another unfunded mandate? Who keeps this information the State is collecting? Will this information be shared? Who will enforced these actions of compliance? On top of that, what questions will be asked on this questionnaire they will be sending? Will they share what those questions with counties before sending these letters? The list goes on, but I will end there".

Lucas Willard is a reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011.
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