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Jefferson County legislators consider resolution opposing state gun law

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Disappointed with aspects of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s gun control bill and frustrated by the manner in which it was passed, Jefferson County legislators are considering drafting a resolution opposing the New York Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act of 2013.

The NY SAFE Act, enacted last month, includes new definitions for and regulations on assault weapons, stronger regulations on ammunition, changes to mental health reporting requirements, statewide recertification of handguns and assault rifles, universal background checks and a mandatory sentence of life without parole for killing a first responder, among other provisions.

Modeled after a resolution created by Republican legislators in Ulster County, the Jefferson County resolution is expected to stake out a position opposing the act and requesting its repeal. The Jefferson County Board of Legislators has a 13-2 Republican majority.

The Ulster County resolution, which also asks the state Legislature to hold public hearings “to address the issue of gun violence in a way that will produce meaningful results,” faults Gov. Cuomo for not giving state legislators enough time to examine the act or to solicit feedback from their constituents and for using a message of necessity to bring the bill to vote immediately, bypassing the standard three-day maturation process for all legislation.

Legislator Robert D. Ferris, R-Watertown, who is leading the charge to bring the resolution in Jefferson County, said he agrees with the parts of the law that address mental health issues and increase penalties for killing first responders, but is frustrated with the wholesale nature of the act.

“They just threw a blanket over the whole thing,” he said.

Mr. Ferris said the Ulster County resolution, along with resolutions being drafted by other towns and counties, was brought to his attention over the weekend via a series of emails from a constituent.

For Mr. Ferris, the resolution presented an ideal opportunity to act.

“It’s something that I felt I wanted to get going here but I didn’t quite know where to start or how to get it moving,” he said. “So I sent it out to the legislators over the weekend. I’ve had a positive response from most of them. The ones that I haven’t gotten a response from yet I’m starting to call them now to make sure that they know it’s coming.”

Not all legislators are in favor of the resolution.

Legislator Allen T. Drake, D-Theresa, said, “I’m really not in support of the gun law that New York state has passed. ... But, then again, I am not in favor of resolutions by the County Legislature about gun control because I don’t think it’s our job to be into these hot-issue topics. What’s our next thing going to be about? Abortion? Same-sex marriage? I think our time would be better spent with resolutions about unfunded state mandates, which eat up about 83 percent of our budget.”

Most legislators on the Jefferson County board, however, seem to support it. They may disagree with different areas of the law, but they all seem to agree the NY SAFE Act was passed too quickly.

Mr. Ferris said he has secured the endorsement of Legislators Philip N. Reed, R-Fishers Landing, chairman of the General Services Committee, and Scott A. Gray, R-Watertown, chairman of the Finance and Rules Committee.

Mr. Gray said while he is not usually a fan of these types of resolutions, which tend to be more “ceremonial” in nature, he is supporting this one because the resolution “represents the views of this area.” He added you can debate the gun control issue, but the process of passing the NY SAFE Act was flawed.

Even though some legislators have suggested the rules be waived and the resolution be brought before the full board at next week’s meeting, Mr. Ferris said he wants to follow procedures and let the resolution work its way through the committee system before the full board votes on it.

“I said, ‘Well, why don’t we do the right thing?’ which is what I don’t believe the governor did, which is take our time and look through it and see which parts of it really need to be repealed and rethought,” he said.

Mr. Ferris said he hopes this resolution, if passed, will gain momentum in the surrounding municipalities.

“My hope is to get the other counties around us to pass this resolution and them to pass it to the counties around them and try to get this repealed,” he said.

Thomas R. King, president of the New York State Rifle and Pistol Association, said he thinks there are about seven counties so far that have created resolutions opposing the NY SAFE Act.

“There are a number of counties, mostly down in the Hudson Valley, but some in Western New York,” he said.

The Ulster County resolution will go before that county’s Law Enforcement and Public Safety Committee on Tuesday night, according to Craig V. Lopez, a member of the Ulster County Republican caucus who helped draft it.

A legislative committee in Ontario County is hearing a similar resolution Tuesday night.

Jefferson County legislators stressed their desire to carefully review the county resolution before voting to oppose the state law.

“This was just rushed through and it’s not good government. It doesn’t properly address the mental health issue,” said Legislator James A. Nabywaniec, R-Calcium, chairman of the Health and Human Services Committee, about the state law.

Another lawmaker voiced his preference for a closer examination of the issue.

“I think anytime we see legislation pushed through with this kind of haste and lack of due process I think a red flag goes up,” said Legislator Barry M. Ormsby, R-Belleville, chairman of the Planning and Development Committee. “It certainly makes you look a little deeper into the content and the true purpose and I think more dialogue and more feedback would have garnered a more balanced outcome.”

Legislator Michael J. Docteur, R-Cape Vincent, also expressed his desire for more study.

“We do rely on our state representatives to do their due diligence while working through legislative issues on the state level,” said Mr. Docteur, vice chairman of the Health and Human Services Committee. “We don’t want to make the same mistakes that may have been made at the state level by passing a resolution without fully vetting the issue and working the issue through a committee.”

Legislator Michael W. Behling, R-Adams, said, “I’d probably be in favor of it. I wasn’t really in favor of how the state got it done. I thought that was a little hurried up.”

Legislator John D. Peck, R-Great Bend, is proposing the board take time to look at the resolution and tailor it to its specific concerns, particularly in regard to the mental health aspects of the NY SAFE Act.

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