The Buffalo News on Jan. 9 filed a Freedom of Information request with Erie County, seeking information about gun permits. The News does not intend to publish a database of the names and addresses of people with registered handguns.
WBEN Radio, without contacting The Buffalo News, erroneously speculated Wednesday morning that The News intended to republish the names and addresses of gun permit owners.
The News is seeking this information just as it has data of voter registration, criminal records, municipal salaries, property assessments, political contributions and tax rates. When reporting on a gun-related crime, for example, The News could check gun permits to determine if an individual has a legal handgun.
The Erie County Clerk’s Office on Wednesday provided a letter acknowledging The News’ Jan. 9 request, as required by state law, and noting that it would postpone its response following the enactment this week of a new state law that included new provisions allowing some permit holders to request their information be withheld from the public.
“In light of recently enacted legislation, this request must be postponed for 120 days,” wrote Patricia L. Fulwiler, deputy county clerk for legal.
The New York Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act, which was signed into law on Tuesday, prohibits the public disclosure of the information of licensees or applicants for 120 days after the law took effect. During that time, a new form will be created that will allow new applicants and existing permit holders to seek an exemption from the public disclosure of their information based on certain circumstances.
Erie County Clerk Chris Jacobs late Wednesday said he would not release the names and addresses of handgun permit holders. The office has pistol permits for more than 75,000 people.
“I will exhaust every legal avenue available to keep the records of registered gun owners private, because I believe such disclosure could endanger the life and safety of our citizens,” Jacobs said in a written statement. “As an elected official, that will always be my first priority.”
Jacobs has not formally rejected the request from The News.
“We expect that the county clerk will set forth his legal grounds for withholding this information, and we trust that he will abide by New York State’s Freedom of Information Law,” said Mike Connelly, editor and vice president of The News.
Although WBEN reported at 7 a.m. and 8 a.m. Wednesday morning on The News’ FOIL request, it didn’t contact The News about an explanation until later.
“We stand by the story,” said Kevin Geary, a spokesman for Entercom Communications, which owns WBEN. “We called you guys at 9 a.m. and you didn’t return our call for a while.”
The radio station later included a response from The News in its reports.
Erie County Legislator Joseph C. Lorigo on Wednesday also sought to move forward a resolution requesting that Jacobs wait to respond to requests under the Freedom of Information Law for information about firearms permit holders “until the New York State Judicial System has made a final definitive ruling” on releasing the information.
Lorigo introduced the resolution last week.
On Wednesday, he sought a special meeting for legislators to discuss the proposal prior to a full Legislature meeting next week.
The new state gun control law passed this week retained language that makes public the name and address of handgun permit holders, but provides new exemptions for certain individuals who believe their life and safety may be endangered or believe they may “be subject to unwarranted harassment” because the information is disclosed. Those include retired police and other officers, those covered by an order of protection, crime witnesses and jurors for criminal and grand jury cases.