David A. Lewis emerged Monday afternoon from Amherst Police Headquarters, satisfied to have the police return his guns but deeply dissatisfied about being incorrectly labeled as having mental health issues that required a judge to take away his guns under the state’s new gun-control law.
Lewis, 35, a college librarian from Amherst who is a target shooter, surrendered his seven handguns April 5 after receiving a letter from Erie County Clerk Christopher L. Jacobs informing him his pistol permit had been suspended based on a provision of the NY SAFE Act called a 9.46 action. He was ordered to immediately turn over his firearms to the Amherst police.
“I feel pretty invaded. I was treated like a criminal would have been treated. I’m afraid of the label that is going to be put on me now as someone who is taking medications,” Lewis said of the anti-anxiety medicine that was once prescribed to help overcome a fear of going to the doctor’s office.
And while Lewis stood in front of the police station holding a cardboard box with his returned guns, State Police Superintendent Joseph D’Amico was finishing up a special trip to Buffalo from Albany to defend his agency’s handling of the case.
“We do not have the power to revoke, suspend or recommend the removal of gun licenses. In a letter to the county clerk, we say you may have an individual with a license who matches a 9.46 action and you need to do your due diligence,” D’Amico said in referring to the section of the NY SAFE Act allowing for the seizure of guns.
Due diligence, he said, means the county clerk is required to carry out an investigation to determine if an individual is a threat to himself or others and should be denied access to guns under the law’s mental health provisions.
The superintendent flatly denied claims that have been circulated that his agency runs a secret unit that seeks to circumvent federal privacy law governing medical records in order to identify mentally ill people and remove their guns. Officials at the state’s Division of Criminal Justice Services, which receives reports flagging people who may be a danger, also denied operating any such unit, calling the claim “ridiculous.”
The reports on individuals of concern from mental health professionals are sometimes very limited, D’Amico said in explaining how David Lewis, of Amherst, had been incorrectly cited as someone who might not be stable enough to possess guns.
When state police received only a name and approximate age, D’Amico said, his staff checked handgun permits statewide and found two men of about the same age and same name of David Lewis. The state police then contacted the Erie County clerk and another county clerk elsewhere in the state where those people lived.
The outcome was not good for either “David Lewis.” Both had their licenses suspended and guns temporarily removed, though it was eventually determined neither had mental health issues.
“We are getting hundreds of these 9.46 reports a day. The end process is we have forwarded only 30 to county clerks in the last month since this started,” D’Amico said.
And while he says that the responsibility to investigate whether an individual is truly a threat and should not have access to firearms rests with county clerks, the superintendent said his staff is working with local officials to make sure that the mental health professionals filing the reports include more complete information.
The forms from local county mental health commissioners reporting individuals are sent to the criminal-justice division and then forwarded to the State Police, D’Amico said. He added they do not include any information on the individuals’ medical records.
So how did it become public that David Lewis of Amherst once took anti-anxiety medication?
D’Amico blames Lewis’ attorney.
But Hamburg Attorney James Tresmond says he did not release that information.
Tresmond and his son Maximillian, a law clerk in the family law firm, allege the state has sent out subpoenas requesting medical records from area psychiatrists to try to identify other gun owners who should have their firearms removed. State officials deny this.
The older Tresmond says that in the next two weeks he will file a lawsuit in federal court claiming Lewis’ rights to own property, his guns, and his due process were denied.