New York gun rights enthusiasts file lawsuit against the state seeking answers to a whole list of questions about the passage, implementation, and enforcement of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s signature gun control law – the New York SAFE Act.
“There is no rational basis for the governor and the state police to be withholding such basic information,” said Webster-based attorney and policy analyst, Paloma A. Capanna.
She is representing Shooters Committee On Political Education, Bill Robinson, and Gun Owners of America in their Article 78 petition to Albany County Supreme Court to compel the state to produce responses to a combined-59 freedom of information law requests.
The petitioners are not seeking personal information about gun owners, said Capanna. “We are not looking for people’s names. We are not looking for copies of their registration forms. We do not want to know if anyone owns and is registered. But we do want some statistical data. It seems simple enough.”
Stephen J. Aldstadt, president of SCOPE, said his group has been trying to get information from the state since January. “We filed numerous FOIL requests, on a number of things, including how many people are registering assault weapons, when state police put out their field guide, and what was their reasoning in putting that together.”
The field guide requires a statewide database and gun registration. Petitioners seek the statistical data relating to that database, he said. The respondents in the complaint are Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, in his official capacity as governor, the New York State Police, and Joseph D’Amico, as Superintendant.
When the SAFE Act was enacted in Jan. 2013 lawmakers failed to hold committee hearings or produce evidence publically before it became law, he said. SCOPE requested any records or drafts pertaining to its passage and implementation.
“So all we are asking for are documents and prior drafts and they are just stonewalling on everything,” he said. “It got to the point the only thing we could do to get this public information released is to file a lawsuit.” SCOPE was founded in 1965 by a group of gun owners in western New York whose focus is the protection and preservation of the right to keep and bear arms.
SCOPE is also requesting data concerning a phone-line police set-up for New Yorkers to ask questions about the SAFE Act because their directives are inconsistent and destructive, said Aldstadt. “We are calling for it to be shut down.”
In a press release, Robinson, who is host of syndicated The Second Amendment Radio Show, said the state’s own agency The Committee on Open Government dealt a significant blow to Cuomo and the state police through their four-page Advisory Opinion released this month.
The Advisory Opinion said there is no legal basis for the refusal to release aggregate statistical information about the “assault weapon” registry. “It is our opinion that disclosure of aggregate data or that which can be derived from the collected records and reported without identification of individual licensees is subject to disclosure under the Freedom of Information Law.”
Capanna, who has over 20 years litigation experience, said she has no idea why the governor and the state police are withholding this data. Connecticut has a similar registration process to New York but without the constructive denial, she said. “Two days after the registration deadline, the lead law enforcement officer for the state of Connecticut held a press conference, handed out the information, and it was really a non-event.”
Whatever calculation Cuomo was making in withholding the information has in part backfired, she said. “Because in the past year and a half, more and more people have said: Well, why can’t we have this information?”The people have a strong interest in keeping the government transparent, she said. “New Yorkers, on many different subjects, both left and right, have submitted FOIL requests during the Cuomo administration who have been completely shut down from obtaining basic information that would help all of us better understand how the state government functions.”
Capanna said, “This is a pattern of shutting ordinary people out of our state government.”