Erie County, NY, Sheriff Says ‘I Won’t Enforce” SAFE Act

It’s no secret Erie County, NY, Sheriff Timothy B. Howard is opposed to the state’s new gun-control law, the Buffalo News noted, as it reported that Howard announced “I won’t enforce it.” Howard, who is running for reelection this year, is now ratcheting up his opposition by filing a friend of the court brief in the lawsuit seeking to overturn the SAFE Act and, even more important perhaps, by suggesting the law not be enforced.


Howard, one of four sheriffs who joined in filing the brief, said he considers the law unconstitutional and a waste of valuable resources, and believes it will ultimately be overturned by the courts.

The law, passed in January, is the subject of a federal court challenge in Buffalo by the New York State Rifle and Pistol Association, and others. The suit claims the law violates an individual’s right to keep and bear arms under the Second Amendment.

“The Constitution is the law of the land,” Howard said.

“If you know it’s a violation of the Constitution, how can you enforce it?” Howard said his views on the law’s enforcement are his own and he has not encouraged or discouraged his deputies to follow suit. He also indicated the district attorney has the ability to charge people with SAFE Act violations even if he and his deputies disagree, “I don’t think we’re going to suppress evidence,” he said. “I just don’t think we’ll be actively pursuing it.” Howard is not the only sheriff to oppose the law—his brief was filed by the New York State Sheriff’s Association— but his stance on enforcement does put him at odds with some of his like-minded peers.

“I don’t get to pick and choose what laws I enforce,” said Putnam County Sheriff Donald B. Smith, a former president of the association, told The News. “That’s exactly why we filed the amicus brief. We need to change this law.” Smith, like Howard, does view the SAFE Act as a step backward and a blow to law-abiding citizens, especially gun owners.

The law, he said, may prove successful in limiting the type of weapons the general public can buy, but it will have little or no impact on what drug dealers, gang members and other criminals can get their hands on.


“I actually call it the not-so-safe act,” Smith told the newspaper. “Ultimately, why would we put our citizens at a disadvantage to the criminals.” Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, who is considered the godfather of the SAFE Act, said the sheriffs’ opposition to the SAFE ACT has as much to do with politics as constitutional law.

“They’re free to litigate,” he said.

“God bless America.” He then added, “They’re politicians who run for office, too.” Howard, who has publicly aired his concerns about the SAFE Act, including testifying at an Assembly hearing in Buffalo in February, believes the law is both illegal and impractical.

It won’t help police fight crime, he insists, and it may do just the opposite by causing law-abiding gun owners to lose trust in law enforcement. In the past, he has used words like “reckless” and “irresponsible” to describe Cuomo’s push for the measure.

Join the conversation as a VIP Member