An upstate New York prosecutor told Human Events he will not go after an individual for a misdemeanor violation of the Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act, signed into law on Jan. 15, in an extraordinary two-minute-drill session of the state’s legislature.
“As I do in all cases, I considered all of the circumstances surrounding the summons,” said Columbia County District Attorney Paul Czajka.
“I declined to prosecute one particular offense,” he said. If the DA had moved forward, it would be one of the first attempts to bring a violator of the new law to trial.
The incident in question took place May 12 at 9:45 p.m., two New York State police officers stopped 31-year-old Gregory Dean from Dutchess County on Route 22 in the town of New Lebanon after noticing that the license plate light on Dean’s car was broken, the DA said.
Thereafter, three summonses were issued, said the former Columbia County judge. “Dean was charged with driving with a suspended license; an inadequate license plate; and for unlawful possession of ammunition device, which is a Class B misdemeanor.”
In determining which charges to prosecute, Czajka said he looks at the seriousness and nature of the crime together with the history of the defendant as well as enumerable other circumstances. “I determined that it was best to exercise prosecutorial discretion and decline prosecution on the charge of unlawful possession of ammunition device.”
The troopers charged Dean with having nine bullets in the magazine of his firearm, he said. “Under the new law, seven is the maximum.”
Czajka said he has received positive feedback for his decision not to prosecute the gun charge, but it has little or any relevance with the decision-making of the other 61 county district attorneys. “They will make their own decision from their respective beliefs, philosophy, resources and discretion.”
The prosecutor said other prosecutors and members of the law enforcement community have not criticized him for his decision. “I have not received any negative feedback and even if I did it would not have affected my decision.”
Nor for that matter has Gov. Andrew J. Cuomo criticized him, he said.
“I have been a sportsman, fisherman, and hunter since I was a little boy,” said the lifelong Columbia County resident and son of dairy farmers.
“My decision is based on all relevant circumstances,” he said. “I am a strong supporter of the entire Constitution including the Second Amendment,” he said.
“The county DA has discretion,” said Robert J. “Bob” Castelli, a former state assemblyman and criminal justice professor at Manhattan’s John Jay College.
Castelli said it is too early to tell whether other district attorneys will follow suit, but there are reports of law enforcement displeasure with the SAFE act, he said. “I think there is a groundswell of resistance against this particular law.”
Everyone in the legal system has to maintain balance, the professor said.
“A good police officer, prosecutor or jury is taxed with the letter and spirit of the law,” the Vietnam War army veteran said. “In this case, the prosecutor chose the spirit of the law.”
Upon his separation from the military, Castelli became a member of the New York State Police, where he served with the elite Special Investigations Unit and the New York State Organized Crime Task Force for over two decades.
“Legitimate law-abiding citizens use firearms for sport, self-defense or hunting,” said the 22-year criminal investigator. “The intention of the SAFE act was to protect the public, but the construct of the law does not make the public safer.”
Castelli said a long over-due discussion regarding mental health is the issue that needs addressing. “Each mass killing has been done by someone with severe mental problems.”
The American psychiatric and psychologist community have privileged communication with their patients, said the Harvard University graduate.
“How do we enforce laws that violate that communication?” he asked.
“Many individuals feel that the SAFE act is arbitrary and capricious, and a violation of the Second Amendment based upon the Heller and McDonald court decisions,” he said.
The controversy over the SAFE act has not lessoned, said Columbia County resident Evan Hempel. “There is a certain amount of enthusiasm to undo this law.”
Hempel who is a computer programmer for IBM created a website dedicated to compiling New York Town and County resolutions both for and against the SAFE act.
“To date, 52 out of the 62 counties have entered into resolutions in opposition to the SAFE act,” he said.
“We are keeping people in the loop as election season rolls around,” he said.
Within two to four years, and after statewide elections, repeal or at least reversal of major portions of the SAFE act is possible, said Hempel who is also a Clermont town board member.
“With the current make-up of the state assembly we cannot overturn the measure,” he said. “Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg may be surprised at how the voters react to unconstitutional laws.”