County Sheriffs Speak Out on SAFE Act

02.03.14 | Bob Price

In the year since the passage of the New York SAFE Act, the law has been met with opposition from many angles, including local law enforcement.  Our news partner, WETM in Elmira sat down with several county sheriffs in the Southern Tier to ask them their thoughts on the controversial law.

Tompkins County Sheriff Kenneth Lansing says the governor’s administration contacted the New York State Sheriff’s Association about a possible new gun law in December of 2012.

“We responded back to the vague questions that were given to us and said that we’ll be glad to discuss this further with you and your staff when we come in January,” said Lansing, referring to the association’s annual meeting that takes place in January. “Then, approximately a week before we show up, this was passed under the cover of darkness, how we put it, and it didn’t sit well with us.”

As the Sheriff’s Association got together for its annual meeting in January of 2013, its members drafter a unanimous letter to the Governor’s office. “Overall, 52 sheriffs said we oppose this, and this is why we oppose it,” said Schuyler County Sheriff William Yessman, who was at the meeting.

“We forwarded those suggestions to the Governor’s office,” said Chemung County Sheriff Christopher Moss. “Unfortunately, none of them were implemented, but they’re still there.”

Cuomo administration officials say the letter was received, and that they are working with county sheriffs across the state to make sure the SAFE Act is effectively carried out and enforced.

The Sheriffs we spoke with listed problems they had with the passage, implementation, and what is contained in the SAFE Act.

“Obviously, I think the definition of an assault rifle,” said Moss. “I think that’s been a major one. Attempting to have individuals register assault rifles, I think is going to be hard to do. You’ve passed a law that, how are we going to enforce it?”

“I just wish that they would look at the entire law and have some further consideration, inclusive of law enforcement, the public, and not do this overnight, Obamacare law passing,” said Steuben County Sheriff David Cole.

While there are multiple parts of the SAFE Act the sheriffs said they are opposed to, they did say there are some criminal law portions of the SAFE Act they agree with, such as increased penalties for killing an emergency worker and changes to the way gang crimes involving a gun can be prosecuted.

“I agree with the background checks, the mental health portion of it,” said Yessman. “It could actually be a little stronger in some aspects.”

“The private sale thing, I know a lot of people have a problem with that, but you do need to be careful when you make private sales, there’s no doubt about it,” said Lansing. “So having to do a background check on someone doing a private sale, it’s not a big deal.”

Finally, we asked all the sheriffs the same question: one year after its passage, is New York State safer under the SAFE Act?

“That’s a tough question,” said Lansing. “I don’t know that we’re any safer. I know that’s what they want and that’s what they mean, I’m just not sure that the SAFE Act made it safe.”

“No way is New York State safer one year after the passage of the SAFE Act,” said Yessman. “It did nothing to take the guns away from the criminals.”

“Personally, as the county sheriff, I haven’t seen it make Chemung County any safer,” said Moss.

“The criminals are safer, because the criminals aren’t going to obey the law and basically what you’re doing is disarming law abiding, honest citizens,” said Cole.