Eight Years After Passage, NY's SAFE Act Still A Political Issue

(AP Photo/Democrat & Chronicle, Shawn Dowd)

It’s been nearly ten years since New York imposed the SAFE Act on residents, and many gun owners and Second Amendment activists are still fiercely opposed to the package of gun control laws that imposed magazine bans, gun registration requirements, and other restrictions on responsible gun owners. The SAFE Act has even emerged as a major issue in the race for sheriff in Erie County, with one Second Amendment group accusing a Republican candidate of talking out of both sides of her mouth when it comes to gun control.

The 1791 Society’s Frank J. Panasuk has been leading the charge against [Karen] Healy-Case despite her emphatic refusal to enforce SAFE Act provisions she considers unconstitutional.

 

“Will you believe what she is now saying to get elected or what her real feelings are that were made public long before she was running for sheriff?” he asked in a recent post to the group’s Facebook page followed by 25,000 people.

Panasuk, a retired detective in the Town of Hamburg Police Department who is active in the local gun rights community, points to a 2006 Healy-Case quote after two fellow officers were shot on Elmwood Avenue. One of them, Officer Patricia Parete, later died of her wounds. At the time, Healy-Case blamed weak gun laws and a revolving-door criminal justice system in Buffalo. Too many teenagers with guns, she said then, get too many breaks.

“I’m seeing kids 13, 14 and 15 years old with guns now,” she told The Buffalo News in 2006. “People in this country should be stamping their feet and demanding stronger gun laws.

Healy-Case says her 2006 comments should be taken in context, pointing out that she was talking to reporters just after two of her fellow officers had been shot. She also says that she wasn’t referring to “licensed gun owners” with her comments, but as we all know, “stronger gun laws” are rarely aimed exclusively at criminals. Instead, they’re targeted at legal gun owners with the hope and expectation (among gun control advocates, anyway) that there’ll be a trickle-down effect on criminals.

“I want as many good people as possible to have guns so as they are not left undefended against the bad guys,” she said, denying any suggestion her 2006 comments point to a lessening resolve to resist certain aspects of the SAFE Act.

 

“I never back down,” she said. “I believe it’s an unconstitutional mandate, I believe in the U.S. Constitution as it stands, and I don’t believe the people in Albany should be making those decisions for us.”

The 1791 Society’s given $2,500 to John Garcia, a former detective in Buffalo and one of the other Republican candidates, who says that while he’ll enforce the SAFE Act, he wants to base his enforcement on criminal intent.

And Garcia told The News that while he sees no need to “subject law abiding citizens” to certain aspects of the law, he wants “the criminal element to answer.”

 

“The 1791 Society is pro-Second Amendment, but they understand we can’t have criminals carrying guns,” he said, adding some parts of the SAFE Act remain unenforceable “because we just don’t have the resources.”

Of course, “law-abiding citizens” shouldn’t have to worry about the SAFE Act, because they’re not violating any of those laws. The real issue is that the SAFE Act turns responsible gun owners into non-violent criminals if they possess a 20-round magazine or don’t register their legally purchased AR-15 with the state of New York.

By the way, if you’re wondering why the sheriff’s candidates are talking about the SAFE Act and not, say, New York’s “may issue” carry laws that are going to be scrutinized by the Supreme Court, it’s because in Erie County its the county clerk’s office that handles applications, and applicants are approved or denied by a local judge who serves as the licensing officer.

As a resident of Virginia, I can’t cast a vote in the Erie County Sheriff’s race, but if I could, I’d be voting for the first candidate to vow not to enforce any aspect of the SAFE Act. After all, a law can’t be constitutional when it’s applied to “criminals” and unconstitutional when it’s enforced against “law abiding citizens.” Either the law is constitutional or it’s not, and in my opinion, the SAFE Act clearly violates the Second Amendment rights of New Yorkers, and there are plenty of laws on the books to address violent criminals that don’t involve infringing the right of responsible gun owners to keep and bear arms.