Putnam Leaders, Firearm Owners Continue Fight Against Gun Laws and Disclosure

Attacking SAFE Act by defunding it proposed at state level

By Liz Schevtchuk Armstrong

Putnam County’s top leaders joined firearms owners Wednesday night (Dec. 3) at an energized forum-cum-rally in Carmel to attack various gun restrictions, advocate gun rights and oppose disclosure of information on gun ownership.

A strategy for thwarting New York state’s sweeping 2013 gun-control law, the Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement or SAFE Act, also emerged: in the New York State Legislature, abolish funding for implementing it.

Putnam County Executive MaryEllen Odell, County Clerk-Elect Michael Bartolotti, center, and Assemblyman Steve Katz listen to a comment from an audience member.

Putnam County Executive MaryEllen Odell, County Clerk-Elect Michael Bartolotti, center, and Assemblyman Steve Katz listen to a comment from an audience member.

County Executive MaryEllen Odell, Sheriff Donald Smith, District Attorney Adam Levy and County Clerk-Elect Michael Bartolotti, now deputy clerk, all took to the podium at a workshop meeting organized by the Putnam County Firearm Owners Association. Described as a training session on state laws, the event drew over 150 participants to the Paladin Center, a private training facility for police, corporations and private clients.

“This is what you call a packed house,” one attendee observed to another as the hall filled, though whether he referred to the crowd or any weapons it carried was unclear.

The evening featured frequent denunciations of the SAFE Act and invocations of the Second Amendment.

Passed in the wake of the gun massacres of schoolchildren in Connecticut and firefighters in upstate New York, the SAFE Act banned new semi-automatic assault rifles, handguns and shotguns; demanded registration of assault guns already owned; decreased the allowable size of high-capacity ammunition magazines; and imposed other restrictions. Opponents brought legal challenges, which continue.

Levy signaled that enforcing the SAFE Act remains a low priority for his office, Bartolotti called the law “a disservice to every citizen,” and Smith denounced it as “one of the worst pieces of legislation ever passed in New York state.” Odell and Bartolotti pledged continued defense in court of Putnam’s refusal to disclose handgun ownership information in the public record, sought by The Journal News newspaper. The newspaper sued and the county lost in court though the appeal process continues.

Putnam County District Attorney Adam Levy

Putnam County District Attorney Adam Levy

Levy said the SAFE Act barred law-abiding citizens from owning certain guns and ammunition, which meant law enforcement officers “were automatically turned into criminals.” As a district attorney, he said he took an oath to uphold the law. “I’ll do that,” if a court decision favors the SAFE Act but will proceed with the discretion allowed him, he said. “We have to prioritize in the office,” Levy observed. “I’m not going to say I’m not going to follow the law.” However, “it’s the way we allocate resources to do that” which counts. [Editor’s note: Click here for a letter to the editor from Levy.]

State Assemblyman Steve Katz, whose district includes much of Putnam County though not Philipstown, warned that “the SAFE Act is there. The idea of repealing it is not realistic.” Yet, he said, it can be defunded and rendered powerless. “This is the piece we can get them at,” he said of the law and its supporters. “And that’s what we will do this time,” in the next state budget.

Odell outlined the county’s efforts to prevent disclosure of gun-owner data and said that with the newspaper demand “we were being challenged on our basic rights and freedoms.” She referred to individual gun-owners, including a retired policeman and a woman victimized by a stalker, who face potential harm from disclosure of information, and described the fight as one of protecting safety and privacy. “We were standing on the side of right,” she said. “It’s about acting responsibly when newspapers act irresponsibly. That’s our position.”

Bartolotti said the clerk’s office “will keep fighting in the trenches” and questioned why the news media “would want to put everybody in harm’s way.” He argued that public officials can shield citizens from likely risks and said, “I do believe we are on the side of right.”

Sheriff Donald Smith

Sheriff Donald Smith

Smith, like others, emphasized Putnam’s ranking as the safest county in the state, a status he attributed in part to the citizens. “Putnam is one of the most well-armed counties in America today,” he said. He faulted the SAFE Act as “unworkable for the police” and told the audience that “if you look at places where these laws have been applied, you look at high-crime areas,” such as Chicago and Washington, D.C.

“People will tell you that you can’t have a safe county and have a Second Amendment” to the U.S. Constitution, Smith said, urging his listeners to “keep these [Constitutional] principles alive.” The Constitution “puts a lot of responsibility on ‘we the people,’ ” he said. “We the people have got to be heard.”

The Constitution opens with the phrase, “We the people of the United States” and its Second Amendment similarly uses the plural term “the people.” Odd punctuation and all, in its entirety the Second Amendment states: “A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”

Photos by L.S. Armstrong

10 thoughts on “Putnam Leaders, Firearm Owners Continue Fight Against Gun Laws and Disclosure

  1. This article raises many questions. First and foremost is the question of why our highest elected county officials would intimate that they will not enforce an established New York State law? Is it within their purview to pick and choose the laws that are acceptable to them for enforcement? When did the offices of District Attorney, Sheriff and County Clerk become so political? Is is appropriate for the top officials in law enforcement to be openly defying the law? What about people who disagree with their stance; are they just wrong and is their opinion to be completely discounted?

    As an avid sportsman and gun owner I know the huge responsibility that comes with gun ownership. As and elected official I know that I represent all the people in my town, not just the people who agree with my views. I am disappointed to see our top elected county officials participate in such spectacle.

    Richard Shea
    Philipstown Supervisor

    • Mr. Shea, many people are still very angry about the “passing” of the SAFE Act. I for one am very happy to see that my top elected county officials are just as passionate about repealing / defunding the law as I am. As an elected official, the officials work for & represent their constituents, as you mention in your comment. Since so many want the SAFE Act repealed I think it’s great to see the elected officials participating in the “spectacle” along with their constituents. Change does not start at the top, it starts at the bottom. Local law enforcement, county sheriffs, county officials & grass-roots organizations are where the push to overturn this draconian law need to begin. So in my opinion these officials are doing exactly what many of their voting supporters want them to be doing.

      You ask, “When did the offices of District Attorney, Sheriff and County Clerk become so political?” Well, when this law was “passed,” at 2 a.m. on Jan. 15, 2013 many of our representatives in Albany openly admitted they had only a few hours to even read what was in the law. Many now say that they would have never voted yea if they fully understood what was in the law (note: many of the representatives who voted yea found themselves on the losing end of our state elections last month). The state police, county sheriffs, local law enforcement & county clerks have ALL been burdened by the SAFE Act, the burdens come in many forms. Parts of the SAFE Act cannot even be implemented yet, let alone enforced due to inadequate funding & a broken state police database infrastructure. This is why they have become so political, because they too are affected by the law.

      As far as openly defying the law, again, I’m happy to see the Putnam officials following suit with so many other officials in the state. In my opinion many elected officials have put themselves on a pedestal, some may even feel “untouchable,” as if laws do not apply to them. It’s refreshing to see some of Putnam County’s officials openly defying, since so many of New York citizens are openly (and MANY discreetly) defying the law themselves, again they are representing their constituents.

  2. The sheriff took an oath to the constitution. And in all the writings of the founding fathers they point out it’s our duty as citizens and oath takers not to follow unconstitutional laws. The sheriff is doing his duty as a oath taker and citizen. I would only hope that as an elected official you do the same.

  3. Mr. Spaulding, please provide a citation and a quote to support your statement. I believe your interpretation may be incorrect.

    • Part of the oath of office for the sheriff states that he is to “uphold the constitution.” Earlier this year a chief U.S. district judge in Buffalo ruled that parts of the SAFE Act are unconstitutional. The SAFE Act has yet to be revised following the court’s ruling. So, by following his oath of office, he is defying parts of the SAFE Act.

  4. These elected officials are wasting taxpayer dollars advocating against a law they don’t like in the guise of public privacy & safety. In addition to ignoring the law, they are now acting as the lobbyists for gun owners and manufacturers. When did it become the job of the County Executive and the County Clerk to represent gun owners? Wouldn’t this be better left to gun owners themselves? They were elected to serve the public and oversee day to day operation of Putnam County.

    This fantastical notion that this is about privacy and safety is ill-conceived. Any teenager with a computer and Internet access can unlock the mysteries of gun ownership in Putnam County. I’m afraid that real privacy is a ship that has sailed and to believe otherwise is either mistaken or ill-informed. The only reason the Journal News requested the list of gun owners from the County Clerk is that it was easier than trolling the internet.

    On the subject of safety, we live in one of the safest counties in the state. To imagine there are thieves waiting to break into the homes of gun owners is ludicrous. There is nothing that supports this idea. I have not read one news story where guns where the motivation. Desperate, angry people break into homes. It’s more likely your computer will be hacked. Your personal & financial information can be stolen quite easily by experienced cyber-criminals.

    I know there are number of gun owners who live here in Putnam County and anyone who owns a firearm is concerned about safety. Breaking the law is not the way to allay the concerns of these citizens. Neither is ignoring the rest of the residents of Putnam who either don’t own firearms or those that believe in a free and open society and the rule of law.

    The SAFE Act provides a gun owner with an opt-out clause. They can have their information protected. I should think that would be enough, but in order to convince me otherwise, I’d like hard evidence of danger, not a lot of smoke and mirrors.

  5. I just read the constitution, and do not see the section that reads where there has to exist a need for me to arm myself… At no time in history has controlling guns been an effective deterrent to violent criminal behavior. Guns are tools, just like baseball bats and hammers, and do not cause crime. It’s motive, not method, that is the core problem. Control criminals and the lawful gun owners will control guns. Gun control is not about guns, it’s about control. I apologize in advance, but my rights do not come from government, so leave the social theories in the textbooks and out of the statutes.

  6. The Second Amendment to the Constitution has been decided by the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision and the opinion appended by Justice Scalia clearly authorized government to prohibit the possession of certain types of firearms, not by the board of directors of the National Rifle Association to which our officials and the Sheriff of this county appear to owe allegiance.

  7. I’m not one that rabidly supports the elimination of all firearms from private sector ownership. However, I do believe that something must be done to change the current state of our gun-obsessed nation. Clearly, the manner in which firearms are owned, sold, traded, regulated and managed in our country leaves too many gaps that lead to tragedy after tragedy. There have been over 100 school shootings in the two years since the horror of Newtown. That averages to more than one school shooting per week.

    Is this the kind of fearful society we want to live in? Is this an environment in which we want our children to be educated? I think not.

    Most gun owners are responsible people and good neighbors who are also committed to safety for all. But there are just too many people getting injured or killed by firearms on a daily basis. The responsibility for finding and implementing workable solutions must fall on the shoulders of those who advocate gun ownership.

    My hope is that all the people who attended this forum, spoke out for their rights and denounced the SAFE act will proactively work with those who choose not to own firearms to craft and implement better solutions. Sitting back on a home arsenal, criticizing those who are trying to make us a safer society, and blaming the unstable or mentally ill is not finding solutions. It’s passively allowing the problem to continue.

  8. What would be so bad about requiring gun owners to pass an occasional sanity and safety test and carry insurance on their weapons? How else would we filter out those who are not fit to carry guns? Maybe everybody should take a sanity and safety test of some kind; then gun owners wouldn’t fell singled out, and we might actually have a starting place for providing mental health services.