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Candidates for Jefferson County sheriff discuss positions on SAFE Act

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WATERTOWN — All three candidates in the race for Jefferson County sheriff said they either opposed or did not support the New York Secure Ammunition and Firearms Act of 2013, though they differed in how they predicted they would enforce the law.

Republican John R. Bocciolatt said he would use “discretion” in enforcing the law, Democrat Colleen M. O’Neill said she would “prioritize” her enforcement efforts to ensure that hunters and sportsmen were not unfairly targeted and Democrat Paul W. Trudeau said he was bound by his oath of office to enforce the law, despite his feelings.

“The sheriff is the individual that enforces the law. He’s not the individual who makes the policies and the laws — that’s done in Albany,” said Mr. Trudeau, the undersheriff of the county. “The other two are semi-correct, you have the ability to use discretion and you do that no matter what law. But I cannot, like I said last night, come out and say that 100 percent that I would never have to enforce the SAFE Act.”

It has been more than a year and a half since the New York SAFE Act was signed into law, but it is still at the forefront of north country voters’ minds. Moderators of a candidate forum at the Dulles State Office Building on Tuesday said most of the questions they received pertained to the law, which provides stricter gun control regulations.

Ms. O’Neill, a retired state police senior investigator, said she would use her authority as sheriff to focus her efforts on using the law to go after criminals who use firearms illegally, and praised the stricter penalties the law provides for those individuals.

“Anyone who takes over as the sheriff next year is bound by law and the oath of office to not pick and choose what laws are enforceable,” Ms. O’Neill said.

“But the sheriff does have the authorization to prioritize where resources are focused. My intention would be, of course, not to focus on law-abiding gunowners or sportsmen or sportswoman ... there are tools in the SAFE Act for law enforcement officers to vigorously pursue criminals who are using guns and the law provides for stricter penalties for criminals who use firearms and I think that’s a useful tool for all law enforcement and I’ll use it to its fullest potential as the sheriff,” he said.

Mr. Bocciolatt said that he would evaluate the enforcement of the law on a case-by-case basis.

“Discretion is going to be driven by the facts of the issue,” Mr. Bocciolatt said. “If someone does a robbery, an armed robbery, and we go do a search warrant, they’ll be charged to the hilt. But some of this garbage that is in the SAFE Act is just ridiculous and I wouldn’t charge.”

Mr. Bocciolatt said the discretion he described was no different from what law enforcement officials have been doing for hundreds of years.

“Police officers have done that since the beginning of policing and they do it ... because the facts drive your decision making,” Mr. Bocciolatt said.

Ms. O’Neill and Mr. Bocciolatt have been given an “A” rating from the North Country Friends of the Second Amendment, an organization opposed to the SAFE Act.

Mr. Trudeau received a “C” rating, which, according to the group’s website, indicates that a candidate supports the Second Amendment and may be opposed to the SAFE Act, but may be less willing to speak out against the law.

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