Legislators oppose county seal use on NY State Police notices to gun owners
By Liz Schevtchuk Armstrong
Putnam County’s Legislature appears poised to link a new assertion of county rights to its old opposition to gun control, moving to prevent use of the county seal on notices from the New York State Police to handgun owners reminding them to recertify their weapons every five years.
In Carmel on Tuesday night (Feb. 18), the legislature’s Rules, Enactments and Intergovernmental Relations Committee took up the question of cooperation with the state police, a year after the legislature urged repeal of the 2013 NY SAFE Act — the New York State Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act, passed by the state legislature after the December 2012 massacre of children in Newtown, Conn., and murder of two firefighters responding to a blaze in a rural New York community.
The three-person Rules Committee unanimously approved a draft resolution prohibiting unauthorized use of Putnam County’s seal, clearing the measure for adoption by the entire nine-member legislature at an upcoming session.
SAFE Act objections
Although the draft resolution does not mention the gun-control law by name, “this is in response to the NY SAFE Act. So we have to keep it in that context,” said Legislator Dini LoBue, who chairs the Rules Committee. “I am not in favor” of the state police using the seal. “I think this is just further evidence that they want to try to aggravate the people, the gun-holders that have legal permits. We already went through this last year,” when objecting to the SAFE Act, she observed.
Several counties have already adopted resolutions forbidding use of their seals by the state police, who, under the NY SAFE Act handle the license recertification of pistols and revolvers. According to the state penal law, which incorporates SAFE Act provisions, “all licensees shall be recertified to the Division of State Police every five years” and must undertake recertification by Jan. 31, 2018. “Failure to recertify shall act as a revocation of such a license,” the law warns. It directs that “not less than one year prior to such date, the state police shall send a notice to all license-holders who have not recertified by such time.”
Hence the state police interest in help from counties — or at least county seals.
In a Feb. 18 memo, County Clerk Dennis Sant objected to “the unauthorized use of the official county seal,” pointing out that “it has recently come to our attention that the New York State Police” in implementing the SAFE Act “was considering the dissemination of correspondence to Putnam County pistol licensees with our official county seal.” Sant said that he gave no permission to the state police, or Gov. Andrew Cuomo, to use the seal “on any of their correspondence for any of their endeavors under the NY SAFE Act.” He added that he had informed the county attorney.
Then the legislators got involved too.
The draft resolution declares the legislature “denies any entity, including another governmental entity, permission to use the name and or official seal” as well as “the letterhead of any county department or agency … without written consent” of both the legislature and the county clerk. The draft resolution points to “situations where private and other governmental entities indicated a desire to utilize the name and/or official seal of the County of Putnam for purposes not involving an official function of the county, in order to misleadingly suggest the county’s involvement in or support of such matters.”
Legislators — committee members, joined by a handful of colleagues watching from the side — enthusiastically supported the draft. “I think especially in Putnam, where we took such a strong stand against the SAFE Act, to have our seal on future correspondence relating to this is really a slap in the face,” said Legislator Louis Tartaro, a Rules Committee member.
“It strikes me that the SAFE Act stuff is over the top, but I don’t know why anyone outside the Putnam County government would think they have the legitimacy to adopt our seal,” Legislator Kevin Wright, the third committee member, commented. “It’s raw politics and it’s wrong.”
LoBue said that if the state moves ahead, the legislature will send a message to state officials. “All the surrounding counties are moving toward the same memorialization” or resolution, “so we’re all on the same page,” she said. “And we have power by numbers.”
Sheriffs’ Association qualms
In New York State, with a few metropolitan exceptions, counties issue pistol licenses, while county clerks keep gun ownership records. The New York State Sheriffs’ Association dislikes the recertification process because it, and related regulations, “conflict with sheriffs’ duties regarding issuance of pistol permits.”
Last May, the sheriffs’ group and individual sheriffs, including Putnam County Sheriff Donald Smith, wrote a friend-of-the-court brief in a challenge to the NY SAFE Act by the New York State Rifle and Pistol Association (NYSRPA), the National Rifle Association state affiliate. The Rifle and Pistol Association promotes bans on use of county seals in conjunction with the SAFE Act.
Controversy notwithstanding, a state police press spokesperson, Darcy Wells, told Philipstown.info/The Paper on Tuesday that “the recertification process is being developed. However, our primary concern is ensuring that all permit holders recertify properly. If they do not they will lose their permits.” Wells said that while the NYSP is setting up the recertification mechanism, “counties have and will continue to be involved in the process as they have a vested interest” in only providing handgun permits to legally qualified people.
Upcoming: county seal use in campaigns
If legislators don’t want the state police borrowing the county seal, they also seem reluctant to allow fellow Putnam County politicians to put the seal on re-election materials. The Rules Committee called for discussion next month on proscribing that practice as well.