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Essex County calls for repeal of state’s SAFE Act

April 1, 2013

ELIZABETHTOWN - Essex County wants the state to repeal the Secure Ammunitions and Firearms Enforcement Act and replace it with measures that are fully vetted by the public.

A resolution demanding the repeal of the new gun law passed 15-2 after a two-and-a-half-hour special meeting at the county courthouse Monday night. A second resolution opposing a proposed bill that would require gun owners to purchase $1 million liability insurance policies passed unanimously.

Nearly 100 people attended the special meeting, which included a presentation by Sheriff Richard Cutting as well as comments from 10 sportsmen and gun owners who opposed the SAFE Act and three Keene residents who wanted the board to table its resolution to give the public more time to offer feedback.

"There are things in the law that I agree with; there's some that I don't," Jay town Supervisor Randy Douglas, who chairs the county board, said as the meeting came to a close. "But I honestly feel in my heart that it should go back to the state Legislature and the governor to rewrite this law, with new ideas (and) with input from mental health experts, law-enforcement experts and county clerks' associations - and have some public input.

"In the end, I look at it this way, and I've said this a few times: I do not believe that if you took a lighter away from an arsonist, that he still wouldn't find a way to commit the crime."

The resolution notes that gun owners are protected under the Second Amendment and says that the lawful use of firearms is a "valued tradition in Essex County." It says state lawmakers "could not and did not" have time to get feedback from their constituents prior to the law's passage.

The resolution calls the SAFE Act complex and confusing, and claims that it would require the county to hire more staff at the clerk's office and purchase additional computer systems. Plus, the county alleges that $36 million budgeted for SAFE Act implementation is being held by New York State Police and won't be shared with counties.

The law does have some good parts, the resolution says, but "by and large, we find the legislation does little more than negatively impact lawful gun ownership."

Monday night's meeting wasn't billed as a public hearing, but supervisors encouraged people who attended to sign up to speak before the vote. Don Sage, president of the Schroon Lake Fish and Game Club, urged the board to go a step further and pass a resolution saying the county would refuse to enforce the new law.

"There's got to be a stop to this," he said. "There's got to be a way to pick on the criminals instead of picking on law-abiding citizens. We need to stand up and fight back. ... Oppose this law, oppose enforcing it, and oppose complying with it. Nobody has a right to tell you what you've got in your house except you."

Several other speakers, including Bruno Mazzotte of Moriah Center and Derek Sprague of Moriah, said the SAFE Act is unconstitutional, while others said it won't stop mass shootings like the ones in Newtown, Conn., and Aurora, Colo.

Lorraine Duvall of Keene was among a small group that opposed the county's resolution. She argued that the public didn't have enough time to review the document before Monday night's vote.

"The timing that happened with this resolution is similar to what happened with the New York state law," Duvall said. "That is, there wasn't time for us to respond."

Douglas and other supervisors countered that the board gave the public ample time to provide feedback. The resolution was posted to the county's website several days before the meeting, and discussions about the SAFE Act have been ongoing at county meetings for more than a month.

Duvall asked the board to consider tabling its resolution to foster more discussion. She also said the board should ask the Legislature to amend or modify the SAFE Act, not repeal it. A round of boos followed her remarks, to which she responded, "I didn't boo you." Douglas then asked the crowd to be respectful of differing opinions.

Willsboro town Supervisor Ed Hatch moved to table the resolution later in the meeting, but that measure was defeated.

When it came time for the board to vote, several supervisors who initially opposed repealing the SAFE Act ended up joining their colleagues to support the resolution. Minerva town Supervisor Sue Montgomery-Corey said she voted against a similar resolution passed by her town board but decided to represent her town's interests at the county level.

"The SAFE Act is a state law: it's enacted by the Senate and the Assembly and signed by the governor," she said. "No action of my town board or this body can overturn that. Our vote tonight is symbolic. There's power in symbols."

Earlier in the meeting, Ron Jackson of Essex acknowledged that repeal won't happen.

Essex County joins a growing legion of counties and other municipalities that want the state to repeal the much-maligned law. North Country lawmakers say it's unlikely that the law will be repealed since it had such overwhelming support in the Assembly.

Additionally, it appears that Cuomo won't back down anytime soon. At a Feb. 27 press conference in Albany, the governor was asked if he was concerned about the repeal resolutions counties have passed.

"We've had this conversation a number of times," Cuomo said at the time. "Statewide, as you know, it's about 70 percent of the people of the state support the types of provisions that we have in the bill. That's still 30 percent of the people who don't support it, so we knew that all along. One of the reasons why society hasn't done anything about guns, one of the reasons that we've lost so many innocent lives, one of the reasons I've spent 20 years working on this issue is because it's difficult."

"Look at the conversation in Washington, D.C. You don't need to look at county resolutions; look at the discussion in Washington. You get a sense of the degree of difficulty and political differentiation on this issue."

Contact Chris Morris at 891-2600 ext. 25 or cmorris@



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