New York State lawmakers denounce Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s signature gun control law and criticize him for openly reprimanding the county sheriffs for their discontent with the law.
“The first obligation of the sheriffs, as is the obligation of the governor, and every other elected official – is to uphold the Constitution,” said Assemblyman Steven F. McLaughlin (R. – Melrose)
According to local news reports, the Democrat governor made an appearance in Essex County last week, in an area known as “North Country” where he told New Yorkers that public complaints and lack of interest to enforce the New York Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act from county sheriffs is inappropriate and could lead to chaos.
The SAFE Act has been heavily criticized by law enforcement officials, gun owners and concerned citizens since its Jan. 15 rush passage.
Some law enforcement officials have told me, on the condition of anonymity that the governor is attempting to bully officers into abiding by a law that was of his creation.
McLaughlin said these tactics are similar to the strategy Cuomo took earlier this year when he brought the state sheriffs together to discuss the SAFE Act. “The sheriffs thought they were going to talk about amending the SAFE Act, and Cuomo basically told them to shut their mouth.”
“For Cuomo to say that we should blindly support any law is ironic given the fact that the federal government is not enforcing marijuana-prohibition laws,” he said. “I don’t hear him criticizing the president maybe he should start with the commander in chief.” The U.S. Dept. of Justice recently stated that it will not challenge state laws authorizing small amounts of marijuana.
There are real significant questions of whether the SAFE Act is constitutional, he said. “I do not believe it is.” Fifty-two out of 62 counties oppose the law, together with 321 towns and villages, and the state’s sheriff’s association as well, he said. “Every rank and file police officer I know opposes the SAFE Act.”
He said using discretion is what police officers are trained to do. “If you are driving 58 miles per hour in a 55 speed limit – technically the sheriff should give you a ticket but they use their discretion and do not.”
“The sheriffs are opposed to the law because it doesn’t make anyone safer,” said McLaughlin who is a former commercial pilot.
“Why are we turning law abiding citizens into criminals with a stroke of a pen?” he asked. “One day it is legal, the next day it is not because King Cuomo said so – it’s absurd.”
The legislation is so poorly conceived that it is headed to the U.S. Supreme Court for an ultimate decision over constitutionality, he said. “Cuomo should tread cautiously about what he intends to do.”
Cuomo talks tough but he lacks courage, he said. “He lacks the courage to endorse anybody in a New York City mayoral race; I highly doubt he has the courage to take on the sheriff’s association.”
“Cuomo has zero courage; that’s why I call him governor gutless,” he said.
“Cuomo is showing absolutely no respect for his law enforcement officials,” said Assemblyman Dr. Stephen M. Katz (R. Mohegan Lake).
“Is the governor going to be there when sheriff’s deputies go knocking on doors enforcing the SAFE Act?” he asked.
Cuomo thinks he is in a position to tell the sheriffs that they must prosecute this law simply because it is the law, however that is not enough when the law is unconstitutional, he said. “The United States has a rich history in not obeying laws – nullifying laws that we find to be unjust.” Nullification is a legal theory that says a state has the right to invalidate, any federal law that a state has deemed unconstitutional.
Katz describes three incidences of nullification as examples:
Alien and sedition act of 1798 which essentially took away everyone’s first amendment right and cost John Adams his chance to be reelected;
The Dred Scott Supreme Court decision (1858) which declared that if a slave escapes to the North he has to be returned as property to his owner in the South; and
Civil disobedience was the way African Americans fought unconstitutional segregation laws until those laws were overturned.
From the time Cuomo holstered this bill upon us, without it ever being well thought-out up until now, the law is more idiocy, said the Bronx County veterinarian. “Nullification seems to be the direction sheriffs are taking; that’s pretty much the case in my neck-of-the-woods.”
The bottom-line is the SAFE Act hurts law abiding citizens, he said. “Cuomo’s statements are a ‘bully-bath’ to get sheriffs to acquiesce to an unconstitutional law.”
“Many members of the law enforcement community feel the SAFE Act was hastily conceived without their input,” said Robert J. “Bob” Castelli, nationally recognized law enforcement expert and criminal justice professor at John Jay College in Manhattan.
He said while the governor and the state legislature’s intention is for the very compelling reason of preventing another mass murder like the one that took place in Connecticut in December, questions remain as to whether this law will have an effect on a similar situation occurring in New York State.
“In one regard, the governor is correct in recognizing the responsibility of law enforcement to enforce laws that are on the books, however, law enforcement officers are not mindless or tomatrons who only enforce the letter of law,” said the 21-year veteran of the New York State Police.
To do so would create the same chaos as the governor suggests, he said. “Good law enforcement officers as well as good jurists temper the letter of the law with the spirit of the law, and it is that discretion that creates a fair criminal justice system.”
Many have suggested that the SAFE Act is a direct assault on the Second Amendment, said Castelli, who is a former state assemblyman from Westchester County.
“The best way to resolve these issues is for a meaningful dialogue between the governor, members of the law enforcement community, and concerned citizens to discuss what they feel are the inequities and modify the bill to the satisfaction of all.”