March 1, 2013

County: Gun-law has flaws


---- — MALONE — Franklin County legislators oppose the state’s new gun law but want to hear from residents before taking an official stance.

Sheriff Kevin Mulverhill plans to organize and then announce the dates and times of the meetings, which will be held at each end of the county.

Unofficially, the seven-member panel opposes some sections of the state’s Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act (SAFE Act), saying Gov. Andrew Cuomo rushed to sign it in reaction to the December massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

They called the law another unfunded mandate, even though it says all program costs will be covered within the State Police budget.

Legislators invited Mulverhill, Acting County Clerk Kip Cassavaw, Community Services Director Suzanne Goolden and District Attorney Derek Champagne to their regular meeting to gauge their opinions, since their departments are impacted the most by the law. The DA was unable to attend.


Cassavaw said that implementing the law could mean he has to add more staff because the two people dedicated to the job now are overwhelmed.

Since the legislation was signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Cassavaw said, gun owners adding new weapons to their permits, people obtaining permits for the first time and those seeking clarification of the new law have caused an eight-fold increase in the paperwork his office must process.

“I can’t take staff away from other work with two people all day doing pistol permits. That’s a lot of man hours, and that’s why I’m against it.”


Mulverhill said he agrees with the position paper the New York State Sheriff’s Association sent to Cuomo in January that calls for changes in the law — he also thinks no personal information on a pistol permit should be publicly released, wants a clarification of the definition of an assault rifle, funding awarded for local law enforcement to oversee school-safety plans and clarification about ammunition sales over the Internet, among others. 


The sheriff said the state should add more money to mental-health agencies to ensure their clients’ access to weapons is restricted.  

Goolden said the law “creates a new section of mental-hygiene law” and places the burden on less-than-qualified professionals to evaluate a person’s mental state and likelihood of harming others.  

There is no way to know who may be a threat to themselves or society unless the person has been seen by a mental-health professional, she said.

“We have to strengthen our mental-health system and assist (people) to gain access and receive treatment.”


Some provisions in the law go into effect today, but Goolden said there is still no data-reporting structure in place and no direction on whether those reports are made by phone or online to make sure the information gets to those who need it.

“It’s a time-consuming process for Community Services,” she said. 

And, she said, it could open the county up to lawsuits if evaluation information used to commit someone to mental-health treatment is inaccurate, for example.

These factors can combine to prevent a person in need of treatment from getting it, plus there are client-confidentiality issues at stake in regard to whether personal information listed on a pistol permit can be released to the public, Goolden said.

“That’s a significant thing,” said Legislator Timothy Burpoe (D-Saranac Lake). “The people who need help will refuse to expose themselves, so we won’t have an opportunity to identify these folks.”

Goolden suggests evaluations that include face-to-face interviews and establishing mandatory reporting of potential violent behavior, much like what is done with suspected child-abuse cases, could be added to the law.

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