By HEATHER NELLIS
Recorder News Staff
FONDA -- Montgomery County Clerk Helen Bartone said her office has been overwhelmed with inquiries and residents' amendments to their pistol permits in response to the state's Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act.
According to the state Association of County Clerks, it will increase more if the state changes provisions that call for five-year re-certification of pistol permits to be undertaken by the clerk's office, instead of State Police.
Bartone's office took over as the county's license-issuing agent last year upon the county's purchase of software and equipment for a new plastic ID card system.
It was a role previously undertaken by the sheriff's office, which still receives applications for new pistol permits, and is still involved in processing, along with county Judge Felix Catena, Bartone said.
Since the bill was signed into law in January, Bartone said the number of permit amendments and gun transfers has increased dramatically for the approximate 7,000 pistol permits issued in Montgomery County.
"We've been very, very, very busy -- there are days my staff is spending 100 percent of its time just on pistol permits," Bartone said. "There are tons of calls, and for a lot of questions, we don't have the answers. We've never been informed or contacted by anyone from the state."
Deputy Clerk Lori Tessiero-Semkiw said most of the impact on the office is created by existing permit owners' new gun purchases, which have to be added to their permits, and transfers of guns.
Many of the latter are coming from the county's elderly, she said.
"People want to co-register their weapons, or they're selling them, or gifting them to family members," she said. "They just don't want them anymore. One elderly man came in this morning and transferred eight weapons."
The Association of County Clerks recently issued a position statement on the SAFE Act's impact, and any potential amendments that would make county government for a five-year re-certification of all pistol permits.
"Any shift of this responsibility from the State Police to the county government would amount to an unfunded mandate on the county taxpayers," the statement reads.
In addition to Semkiw, Bartone's staff is comprised of four full-time employees, and one part-time.
"This has never been done before, and we couldn't possibly do that with the staff we have," Bartone said. "There are already about 7,000 permits."
Fulton County Clerk William Eschler said his office is not the license-issuing agent, rather the sheriff's office is.
"We're getting a break there," he said of amendments and transfers, "but we're still the keeper of all records, so there is an impact, especially in the phone calls alone. They're from people concerned/worried/inquisitive, and I don't think the state knows what's going on, either."
Bartone said she's passed her concerns onto state Sen. Cecilia Tkaczyk, D-Duanesburg, and Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara, D-Rotterdam.
Both Montgomery and Fulton counties adopted resolutions calling for the law's annulment.
The state has recently established a temporary hotline to deal with the influx of questions regarding the new law -- 1-855-LAW-GUNS. It's available weekdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. A frequently-asked questions log can also be accessed at nysafeact.com.