ALBANY – The push-back continues.
More than two dozen county legislatures across New York, including Erie County’s, have formally condemned New York’s new gun-control law, describing it as everything from an infringement on Second Amendment rights to legislation stacked with costly state-imposed mandates to an affront to doctor-patient rights.
Opposition to the law, which pollsters say has contributed to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s recent noticeable drop in poll ratings, appears only to be intensifying the emotional debate over gun control even though five weeks have passed since the governor signed it into law.
The Erie County Legislature became the most recent body to condemn the law, when it voted 7-4 Thursday with the help of Republican, Democratic, Conservative and Independence Party lawmakers. The Legislature asked state lawmakers and Cuomo to rescind the new law.
“This issue is not going away,” said Tom King, president of the New York State Rifle and Pistol Association, which is affiliated with the National Rifle Association.
The Albany-based group is set to file a lawsuit in the next 10 days challenging the new law. The lawsuit will come about the same time as a rally next Thursday in Albany that organizers say could draw thousands.
“The counties are telling the governor that they’re very disturbed with the way this legislation was handled,” King said.
Erie County’s nonbinding resolution described some of the law’s provisions as “thoughtful,” such as banning guns on school grounds. But it also said the new law violates Second Amendment rights and contains ineffective, “knee-jerk reactions” to gun violence, such as reducing maximum ammunition magazine sizes from 10 to seven bullets.
“The constituents are saying enough is enough of the Albany politics. They’re saying let’s send a message to people that this legislation was not vetted properly … and repeal it and go back to the drawing boards,” said Erie County Legislature Minority Leader John J. Mills, an Orchard Park Republican.
The steady stream of county legislatures condemning the law has ranged from Rockland and Putnam in the New York City suburbs to counties in rural central and northern parts of the state to several counties surrounding Buffalo.
The New York State Association of Counties recently adopted its own critical resolution, aimed mostly at the unfunded mandates the bill will impose on localities to enforce the law. It says the new law will drive up the budgets of sheriff’s departments, county clerks who must register additional guns and mental health divisions that must investigate reports from health professionals about patients who might be a threat to themselves or others.
The county resolutions have no force of law to change anything that Cuomo and state lawmakers did when approving the NY SAFE Act, a measure that backers say is needed to help reduce gun violence following the Sandy Hook school shootings Dec. 14 in Connecticut.
The provisions include crackdowns on assault-style weapon purchases, new gun-registration requirements, ammunition-purchase tracking and confiscation of weapons owned by people deemed to be a possible risk to society.
The county resolutions run the gamut. Many call on state lawmakers to repeal the law, an action that has no chance of happening.
Others condemn the process by which the bill was passed. Cuomo and state lawmakers used a “message of necessity” route that kept the bill from going through the legal three-day “aging” process to give the public a chance to read its contents.
The vocal opposition drowning out supporters of the new law illustrates a reality: The matter is already state law, and backers have little to lobby for because they already got their way.
That has not stopped the opposition, which is looking at court actions, public rallies and threats of political retaliation at the ballot box next year to make its point.
In Buffalo Thursday, Cuomo was asked the same questions that have dogged him since he signed the measure into law Jan. 15, less than 24 hours after the bill was made public.
“I am a gun owner, so this is not about taking away people’s guns,” the governor said. “I believe people think this is a slippery slope once the government starts to act in terms of gun control. I am a gun owner, and we understand the Second Amendment fully.”
Cuomo said the new law is about making it harder for criminals and mentally ill individuals from obtaining assault-style and other weapons. He chalked up opposition to the law from people who have “a fear of what the law might lead to.” But he called that fear “totally unfounded.”
A survey by The Buffalo News on Thursday found 26 county legislatures or boards of supervisors – with Republican and Democratic support – in the past few weeks backing resolutions critical of the new gun law. And that does not include a growing number of towns that have been going on record opposing the law.
William Ross, chairman of the Niagara County Legislature, said the unanimous vote by his colleagues Tuesday night condemning the law produced something he hasn’t witnessed in his 20 years in office. “It was the first time we got a standing ovation in the chamber,” Ross said of the reaction by gun-control opponents who packed the room for the vote.
Other counties that have adopted resolutions critical of the new law in some fashion include Cattaraugus, Wyoming, Orleans, Ontario. Madison, Hamilton, Cayuga, Fulton, Greene, Washington, Rensselaer, Yates, Oswego, Oneida, Herkimer and Warren. In Warren County, north of Albany, the resolution expressed “dissatisfaction” with the law and urged Cuomo and state lawmakers to meet with interested parties to address problems the governor and Legislature created by the “hasty enactment” of the law.
Philip Skowfoe, the Democratic chairman of the Schoharie County Board of Supervisors, a rural county west of Albany, also said he hoped state legislators would rethink their votes. “I would hope they would reject this law. I would hope they would overturn it. I think it’s very wrong to do that in America,” he said.
Beyond the Second Amendment arguments, many counties have a more basic concern: money. The new gun law continues the trend of the state imposing unfunded mandates on localities, they say.
The statewide association of counties earlier this month called on state lawmakers to hold hearings to address the law’s impact on counties “and the issue of gun violence in a way that will produce meaningful results.”
The group also asked for amendments to the mental health-reporting process and to a new gun-permit recertification process that counties say will be unwieldy and costly and will add new workloads to stressed personnel .
The Erie County Legislature on Thursday unanimously adopted a second resolution using the same language as the statewide county group, complaining about costly mandates.
That counties would complain about some action in Albany is not new, nor would it be new that counties would not get their way in Albany. But gun groups say the united voice that keeps coming from county legislators across much of the state can’t be ignored so easily on such a controversial issue as gun control.
“County governments are the grass roots of state government, and this is the people speaking. It’s not politicians, it’s people,” said King of the Albany gun-rights organization.