The Rockland County Legislature's Public Safety Committee unanimously passed three resolutions relating to gun control that will go in front of the entire legislature at next week’s regular meeting.
The first resolution urges federal and state representatives to institute policy and legislative reforms with respect to gun control and increased mental health services. The second resolution requests state legislators and Gov. Andrew Cuomo take immediate action to amend the recently passed NY SAFE Act using recommendations from law enforcement officers. The third resolution urges state legislators and Cuomo to keep responsibility for pistol permit recertification process in the hands of the state instead of passing down to local governments.
Chairwoman of the Rockland County Legislature Harriet Cornell was a sponsor of the first resolution and said she wanted the resolution to show support to local schools. In January, a letter was sent to out calling for an end to gun violence from the Lower Hudson Council of School Superintendents, which is made up of 78 school districts, including Clarkstown, Nyack, South Orangetown and Nanuet.
“Fiscal restraints in our state and localities and our reduced aid have cut social workers,” Cornell said Wednesday night. “They’ve cut guidance counselors, they’ve cut psychiatrists and they’ve cut programs that address the social and emotional needs of our children, our students. So this is really an attempt to support our school officials, because they have the job working with our local law enforcement to protect our children. These are a list of the things that they are calling for.”
A few legislators, including Toney Earl, Chris Carey and Ed Day all expressed concerns with the resolution, but voted in favor of it so they could discuss it as a full legislature next week. Specifically, Earl thought the part of the resolution in regards to access to mental health services was too broad.
Day and Carey sponsored the second resolution, with both saying they felt the NY SAFE Act was passed too quickly.
“There were some oversights in trying to get the bill done quickly,” Carey said.
Carey and Day both said the oversights in their resolution cover things that seem like common sense but were left out of the bill.
“It was not really thought out on a number of levels and I think as witness to that is the unbelievable unintended consequence of making every police officer in the state of New York a criminal,” Day said. “It was shocking to a number of officers who I spoke to at a number of law enforcement meetings.”
The law calls for a number of gun control measures, including limiting magazines to seven rounds while law enforcement officers have guns with magazines of 15 rounds. There was no exemption written into the original law. Day said the resolution asks for four amendments to the act, which he got from the New York State Sheriff’s Association’s response to the NY SAFE Act. The amendments in Day’s resolution are:
- active and retired law enforcement personnel will be exempt from provisions restricting magazine capacity to no more than seven rounds
- common sense exemptions for law enforcement training should be included in sale of ammunition
- definition of assault weapon is too broad and needs to be more clearly defined
- local law enforcement should be fully included in review and implementation of school safety plans
“The resolution is strictly reflective of the strong points made by the sheriff’s association. It is in my view common sense,” Day said. “It allows active law enforcement to be armed at an appropriate level and retired law enforcement, who have been trained in firearms that have 15 rounds to a magazine and a handgun — and make no mistake about it, there have been plenty of instances where that has been necessary, where off-duty or retired police officers have had to take action.”
Clarkstown Policemen's Benevolent Association President John Hanchar spoke in favor of the amendments, telling the legislators that officers have trained with the same capacity magazines for upwards of 20 years, and they use a lot of muscle memory. To change it now would be putting officers in danger partially while they adjust to the smaller magazines.
Robert Van Cura, a recently-hired undersheriff with the Rockland County Sheriff’s Department, was on hand at the meeting and was asked about the amendments. He said Rockland County Sheriff Lou Falco was part of the group that wrote up the response to the NY SAFE Act, so he would be in favor of the amendments.
A fifth amendment to the resolution was originally included in the second resolution, but was taken out as it was similar to the third resolution that was voted on. Day and Carey agreed to take it out of their resolution so as to not overshadow the third resolution.
County Clerk Paul Piperato spoke out in favor of the third resolution, which talks about the possibility of state’s passing down to local governments the responsibility of conducting five-year pistol permit recertifications, which is a new law passed as part of the NY SAFE Act.
“While I support recertification, especially for our record keeping and especially for our law enforcement because our records are outdated because of the fact that there is no renewal process, I did not want to see the state push this down on the local level to take care of the recertification,” he said. “I don’t want to speak for the undersheriff or sheriff, but it’s just not a matter of sending out a letter and re-certifying individuals that had pistol permits. The real job comes when those letters come back [that] an individual moved or and individual passed away and the family never notified us, and they have a list of guns on that individual’s permit. Well, what do you do? What Westchester now does is they get about 30-40 letters back every month where their, I think they have a public safety department over in Westchester instead of a sheriff, their department deploys five detectives every month looking for these individuals or family members that have these guns. It’s a huge, huge expense on the county level.”
Things got a bit tense during the meeting with Cornell asked why it’s important for retired law enforcement officers to be included in exemptions to the new gun laws. While asking the question, Cornell referenced Christopher Dorner, the fired Los Angeles Police Department officer who made national headlines last week after a string of murders leading the LAPD on a week-long manhunt.
While speaking during public comments, Hanchar took offense to Cornell bringing Dorner up.
“I think you own us an apology,” Hanchar said, referencing Dorner as not only a fired police officer, but a “psychotic killer.”
Cornell said she didn’t mean to compare all retired police officers to Dorner, but was simply asking a question as to why retired officers should be included in the resolution. About 20 law enforcement officers were in the crowd at Wednesday’s meeting, and one who asked not to be named stood up and said both of his parents are retired law enforcement officers who have had their lives threatened by people they put in jail. The officer said his parents monitor parole boards to keep up and see if any people they put in jail might be released soon.
Day also noted that retired and off-duty cops have frequently taken police actions out in public if needed as well.