Western New York gun owners battle the governor’s office for public records relating to an Albany pro-gun rally in which they said legal property was seized by state police.
“It is clear that Cuomo will ignore both the First and Second Amendments whenever it suits his power lust,” said Stephen J. Aldstadt, president of Shooters Committee On Political Education, a western N.Y. gun owners group whose focus is the protection and preservation of the right to keep and bear arms.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo refuses to turn over records concerning an April 1 – Albany gun rights rally where state troopers harassed protesters and seized their replica guns, he said. “SCOPE intends to get to the bottom of Gov. Cuomo’s skullduggery.”
He said SCOPE has reason to believe Cuomo’s staff concocted a special regulation that day designed to suppress the protesters’ right to use replica firearms in the exercise of their First Amendment rights.
This is the specific ordinance that was approved by the Commissioner of the Office of General Services prior to the rally:
In order to maintain the public safety and security of State property, its occupants and visitors, as well as to enhance the efficient and orderly operation of the facilities, until further notice, we are establishing a special rule for the Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller Empire State Plaza (ESP), the Capitol, and all surrounding areas, including the Plaza Level of the ESP, West Capitol Park, East Capitol Park and Lafayette Park. Therefore, pursuant to Section 300-2.14 of Part 9 of the New York Codes Rules and Regulations, a facility specific rule is hereby established that all guns and other weapons, including replicas or toy versions thereof, are not allowed on such premises. State Police or security personnel reserve the right to inspect any bag, container or package and confiscate any prohibited or illegal items.
More than a year after Cuomo’s signature gun control law was enacted, thousands of New Yorkers poured into the state house in Albany on April 1 to protest the N.Y. SAFE Act. Participants brought with them photos of guns and replica guns in solidarity with their anti-SAFE Act position, said Aldstadt.
“The state police were putting out all these signs saying no guns in the area, no replicas, no pictures and everything else,” he said. “They were confiscating people’s toys.”
Aldstadt, individually, and SCOPE were denied records relating to the April 1 rally after filing a Freedom of Information Law request with the state in May. SCOPE and Aldstadt appealed that decision but were again denied access to information by the state’s Executive Chamber.
The governor is claiming the state is protected by the attorney-client privilege. SCOPE has been advised by its attorneys that the attorney-client privilege will not shield communications with lawyers in the furtherance of a conspiracy to violate constitutional rights, said Aldstadt.
SCOPE is considering filing a lawsuit against Cuomo to obtain those records, in which it is likely Erie County Sheriff Tim Howard, an outspoken opponent of the SAFE Act, and the Erie County Sheriffs Deputies Union will join the lawsuit, he said.
This will make for a second lawsuit initiated by SCOPE against Cuomo and the state police within the past month, he said. SCOPE, together with Bill Robinson who is host of syndicated The Second Amendment Radio Show and Gun Owners of America, recently filed an Article 78 petition to Albany County Supreme Court to compel the state to produce responses to a combined-59 FOIL requests relating to the passage, implementation, and enforcement the SAFE Act.
Leiph Lee, who is former secretary for The 2nd Amendment Coalition WNY and a former Erie County resident, said she was also denied access to information after filing a FOIL request with the state. “I had received pictures of the confiscation and signs regarding the prohibition of replica and toy guns, and felt that was an infringement upon our First Amendment rights.”
She said she felt “called to participate” and requested the information because she wondered why the state police felt it necessary to create new rules without any reasonable basis. “Having a toy or cardboard gun poses zero risk to the public.”
The state imposed new rule, implemented for the rally to be continued specifically until further notice, is in direct violation of First, Second and Fourth Amendment rights, she said. Since the SAFE Act and Second Amendment rights are “hot button” issues in an election year, Lee said anything that is damaging to the governor will stay hidden.
This is the same governor that campaigned-on and continues to claim that he is the champion of transparent government, said Aldstadt. “What is the opposite of transparent? Opaque,” he said. “This is the most opaque administration in the nation.”