County clerk says confusion reigns weeks before New York's new gun control laws slated to take effect

Photo Courtesy of the National Shooting Sports Foundation

At this point, Gov. Kathy Hochul should be hoping and praying that a judge issues an injunction barring enforcement of all of the new gun control measures she and her fellow Democrats have hurriedly put in place over the past couple of months, because enforcement is shaping up to be a disaster; something that her Republican gubernatorial opponent will hopefully highlight as often as possible in the two months leading up to Election Day.

Already the state sheriffs association has blasted the new gun laws; not just because of the unconstitutional nature of the provisions but because, from a practical standpoint the new laws require law enforcement to waste time poring over social media accounts and looking for evidence of “good moral character” when they could be actually pursuing criminal cases.

Similarly, the county clerks who’ll be in charge of issuing the permits have their own set of complaints. Franklin County Court Clerk Kip Cassavaw laid out his concerns at a recent meeting of the county legislature, and says no one within state government has been able to answer his many questions about the new statutes.

He said county clerks across the state share his frustration with a law that he and others do not believe was fully thought through.

Cassavaw said state law changing gun licensing requirements, combined with the Supreme Court decision in July striking down New York’s concealed carry law and earlier legislation related to rifles and semiautomatic rifles, will change the way state residents are licensed to carry firearms.

State law will soon require permits for semiautomatic rifles, in addition to the pistol permits previously required. Cassavaw said the legislation will allow gun owners to add semiautomatic rifles to existing pistol permits, while a special permit will be required in all other cases.

The new law requires a recertification course every three years — down from every five — for concealed carry, which includes the completion of a 16-hour course. Applicants must score at least 80% on a written test and be declared proficient in a live-fire scenario with an official from the state police. All other permits must be recertified every five years.

The legislation also lacks clear definitions of where concealed carry is permitted, Cassavaw said. For example, while concealed carry is not permitted in parks, it is unclear whether the law refers to the Adirondack Park and other state parks, or municipal and neighborhood parks, or both. The Adirondack Park is the largest state park in the nation and a haven for hunters and other outdoor enthusiasts.

“The paperwork associated with that is going to be tremendous,” Cassavaw said. “It’s going to create a tremendous workload. I don’t know how we’re going to keep track of it all.”

He said his office has been reaching out to the state police and other authorities for clarification and direction on the new laws.

“They just don’t know,” Cassavaw said.

Again, a disaster in the making unless the federal courts manage to save Hochul from herself. Democrats in New York are already facing righteous criticism over the disastrous consequences of their bail reform policies, and the party is at odds with itself over how to respond. If these new gun control laws actually start getting enforced on September 1st, we’re likely to see that same dynamic play out across the state, though the state’s criminal justice system is also going to come under renewed scrutiny given that the state has made it so easy to accidentally commit a felony simply by stepping foot into a “gun-free zone” even if you possess a concealed carry license. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the number of arrests for non-violent, possessory “crimes” like that increase after New York’s new laws start getting enforced, and probably disproportionately so in the more deeply Democratic parts of the state.

While witnessing the effects of these new laws could have an impact on the November elections, I wouldn’t count on it. Republicans failed to make any real gains in the state in 2014, which was the first year after the implementation of New York’s SAFE Act, and even if the rollout of the laws is a disaster, two months worth of incompetence and unconstitutionality might not be enough time to sway the electorate away from the traditional Democratic dominance in the state. It would have been better had these bad bills not become bad laws, but now the priority should be to get them off the books as quickly as possible before New York lawmakers can do any more damage to the civil rights of state residents, and that means granting an injunction to prevent these new regulations from ever being enforced to begin with.