NY Sheriff Candidate Calls For Harsher Penalties For Illegal Gun Possession

(AP Photo/Marina Riker, File)

Possession of guns by criminals is a problem. We can all agree that it would be better if bad guys didn’t have guns while good guys did. Unfortunately, that’s just not an issue we can resolve. So long as guns exist, criminals will get them, even if good guys can’t.

However, the issue of addressing criminal gun possession is one that will challenge people for years to come.

In New York, one sheriff candidate has a plan that he thinks will do just that.

Anyone caught illegally possessing a handgun should be held without bail and charged with a Class B felony, which can put them in prison for up to 25 years, says a candidate for Erie County sheriff.

Ted DiNoto, a Republican running on an independent line, suggests these changes in a letter to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo as ways to address the rash of gun violence hitting cities in New York, including Buffalo. In the first half of the year, 177 people were shot in Buffalo, up 64% over the 10-year average for the six-month period.

Cuomo has called the outbreak of gun violence an emergency and pledged $138 million for programs to halt the spike. He expects that a new Office of Gun Violence Prevention, within the state Health Department, will direct resources at “hot spots” identified by data. And he wants a new Governor’s Council on Gun Violence Reduction to ensure coordination between the state, local governments and community groups. The governor signed legislation to let New Yorkers hurt by firearms sue gun makers if they can show that a “public nuisance” was created by the sale, importation or marketing of firearms in the state.

But Cuomo said he does not plan to call the Legislature into a special session to address remedies, as DiNoto asks him to do for his proposals.

The crime of criminal possession of a weapon in New York has different degrees of severity, depending on the circumstances, and they are generally midlevel or lower level felonies and misdemeanors.

DiNoto says that if state leaders are serious about reducing gun violence, they will make the illegal possession of a handgun a Class B felony. DiNoto says the illegal possession of assault rifles should be a Class B felony as well.

Now, I get where DiNoto is coming from to some degree. This is similar to a call to enforce gun laws that are on the books already rather than passing new ones. While it will require legislation, it’s legislation to increase the penalties for violations, not creating new laws.

On one hand, I see where he’s coming from. The idea of tougher penalties isn’t new and there’s reason for people to believe it will have a lasting effect on so-called gun crime.

On the other, this is New York we’re talking about here. It’s virtually impossible for law-abiding people to get a carry permit in some parts of the state, thus pushing some to carry illegally–better to be tried by 12 than carried by six and all that. DiNoto’s suggestion would put all of these people in the exact same category.

I’m not sure that’s such a good idea, especially when we know New York’s stinginess with carry permits has them before the Supreme Court.

But, I’ll give the man credit for trying to go after actual offenders rather than law-abiding citizens. I’m just concerned his push will jam up the wrong kind of people.