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Wayne Post
  • County clerks clarify gun law role

  • After an Erie County man last week was misidentified by authorities as a mental health risk under the state's new gun control legislation, county clerks, including Wayne County’s Michael Jankowski, are speaking out about their role in implementing the mental health provision of the law.

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  • After an Erie County man last week was misidentified by authorities as a mental health risk under the state's new gun control legislation, county clerks, including Wayne County’s Michael Jankowski, are speaking out about their role in implementing the mental health provision of the law.
    “I can say this law has had a significant impact on the office of the county clerk,” Jankowski said. “Since this law was passed in January, pistol permit transactions are up by 49 percent. This work is being accomplished with the same number of staff.”
    The New York Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act of 2013, adopted in January, requires mental health professionals to report to authorities if they have patients likely to hurt themselves or others, starting a process meant to determine if their guns should be surrendered.
    “After what happened in Erie County it is obvious that the state needs to reconsider how they are handling this new provision of this law,” Jankowski said. “Law-abiding citizens should not have their rights infringed upon and should never be wrongly identified under any circumstances.”
    Last week, attorneys for David A. Lewis, a college librarian from Amherst, said he retrieved his seven handguns from local police after having turned them in as directed by a letter from Erie County Clerk Chris Jacobs.
    Jacobs said he only followed information sent to him by state police, after forwarding it to the judge who handles handgun permits. Troopers said their county notification first required county officials to follow up in determining if Lewis was someone who posed a threat to himself or others.
    Jacobs told The Buffalo News that police sent him an actual copy of the permit for the Amherst man, though the person they were concerned about was from another county.
    State Police Superintendent Joseph D’Amico said it was a misidentification based on a common name, and that troopers sent notifications to both Erie and Orange counties. That followed a mental health report and state review that identified two men with that name and approximate age who had permits. The report actually concerned a third man in another county who did not have a gun, he said.
    D’Amico said letters sent to counties advise them to complete due diligence before suspending someone's permit. He noted that troopers have no authority to revoke or suspend gun licenses. The counties determine that, he said.
    “This law has been a continual succession of problems for the counties and does not look to improve any time soon,” said Jankowski. “We have received over 3,000 foil request opt-out forms, as well as many concerns and questions from the public.”
    County clerks in Wayne, Ontario, Monroe and Livingston counties have responded to what they said is a misinterpretation of the gun control legislation that suggests the responsibility lies with the county clerks to conduct an investigation to determine whether the particular individual is, in fact, the subject of the actual report. The responsibility, they said, lies with the state.
    Page 2 of 2 - “This unfortunately is the result of what happens when county clerks and other officials are not included in the initial discussion,” said Ontario County Clerk Matt Hoose. “We could have let the state know before they wrote and passed the NY SAFE Act that this posed a problem.”
    Under the provisions of the SAFE Act, mental health providers must send the report to the appropriate county’s director of community services, who then forwards the information to the state Department of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS), according to a statement from the county clerks. Under the law, the department then determines if the person named in the report possesses a pistol permit license and conveys this to the licensing officer, specifically the county court judge.
    Hoose said the county clerk is then tasked with determining if the individual has a current, valid permit and, if so, forwards the information to the judge to make a determination regarding revoking or suspending the person’s permit and removing the person’s firearms.
    Hoose said a flaw in the law is that very little information, possibly only a name, is provided by the mental health professional. In one case in Monroe County, he said, the name provided in a report could have referred to one of four people in the county.
    County clerks, Hoose said, do not have the means to investigate who the report refers to.
    “The county clerk’s responsibility regarding concealed weapons permits is strictly ministerial as they act as clerks of the county court,” said Elizabeth Larkin, Cortland County clerk and president of the New York State Association of County Clerks. “County clerks in New York state have no investigatory authority, nor are they granted access to any agency to conduct an investigation regarding pistol permits.”
    To address this and other concerns with implementation of the SAFE Act, the Governor’s Office has appointed a committee of stakeholders — including county clerks and sheriff’s office and state police representatives. Hoose, who is a member of the committee, said its formation is a step in the right direction.
    “On the state level, there now is an effort being made for input from the people who make the law work,” he said.
    — Includes reporting by the Associated Press

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