Sheriff tries to deal with gun law questions


Recorder News Staff

Montgomery County gun owners have been writing, calling and e-mailing Sheriff Michael Amato with questions on the state's new gun control laws that went into effect last month.

"To this day, I'm not sure how to answer them," Amato said. "The law scared the public, and created problems for law enforcement, because we don't have the answers ourselves."

Amato thinks the "haste" passage of the Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act created more problems than it solved, because of vague language that could have been avoided had the law been available for review and public comment.

"It was a bad way of going about such an important piece of legislation," Amato said. "I'm not happy with it at all."

"If we give them an inch, will it come to the point we can't have any weapons?" he continued.

The sheriff asked the Board of Supervisors Public Safety Committee on Tuesday to support his stance in a resolution that calls for the law's annulment.

The committee obliged, and the full board will consider the resolution later this month.

"It fundamentally alters and abridges the right to keep and bear arms without addressing the problem of leniency by the judicial system toward gun-wielding criminals," the resolution says, deeming it an "ill-conceived and poorly drafted statute which abridges the rights of law abiding citizens."

Amato's stance echoes 51 other sheriffs across the state who convened in late January to review the law's provisions.

As a result of that meeting, the state Sheriffs' Association issued a six-page position statement to Gov. Andrew Cuomo that details several modifications the association feels "are needed to clarify the intent of the law's provisions," and "are needed to allow sheriffs to properly enforce the law in their counties."

* Assault weapon ban and definition of assault weapons: The association says the definition "is too broad ... and prevents the possession of many weapons that are legitimately used for hunting, target shooting and self-defense."

"We are convinced that only law-abiding gun owners will be affected by these new provisions, while criminals will still have and use whatever weapons they want," it reads.

* Five year recertification of pistol permit status and registration of existing assault weapons: The new law delegates to the state police the duty to solicit and receive updated personal information of permit holders every five years, and requires owners of certain existing firearms, now classified as assault weapons, to register with the state police within one year.

Registration is currently undertaken by the sheriff's departments. Amato said he's had several residents ask him about what to do to register the weapons they already have, because they don't want to get arrested.

"I tell them to get registered, but then they ask where, but I don't know where to send them," Amato said.

* Reduction of ammunition magazine capacity: The law says there can be no more than seven rounds in a clip, which is problematic on multiple levels, Amato said.

First, the law isn't clear whether law enforcement is exempt from this provision, he said.

In explaining the second issue, Amato cited an example -- if a deputy pulls over a motorist who has a pistol, which is legally registered, should the deputy ask to see the gun to ensure it's loaded with only seven rounds? And if there are 10, is that person liable to be arrested?

"Do I have a right to search that gun? Do I take the weapon and look?" Amato asked. "It could be violating someone's constitutional right to weapons."

To date, Amato said he hasn't given a directive to deputies on that matter. He said the department's position will likely depend on the scenario.

"Because it's so vague, the simplest thing I can say is we'll take it from there," he said.

The association's position statement points out that authorities are not called upon "to go door-to-door to confiscate any weapons newly classified as assault weapons, and will not do so."

"Sheriffs represent all the people, and we take an oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of New York. Sheriffs will continue to enforce all laws of the state and will protect the rights of all citizens, including those rights guaranteed by the [Constitutions]."

Overall, Amato thinks the state does need more laws concerning possession of certain weapons.

"But the state needs to focus on the problem, and that's the person behind the gun, and what mental health issues they have that caused them to use the weapon," he said.

Amato and the association feel the law should have been introduced like most legislative bills, which includes a public comment period and hearings.

"Then the sheriff's association, and the public, would have had time to review it and provide input on it," he said. "There wouldn't have been as many problems."

Amato said the association continues to review the provisions and release information to local departments.

"As we continue to receive the information, I'll keep taking questions and answer them the best way I can," he said.