County Officials: You May Hate Gun Laws, But Follow Them

Clerk and judge criticize news media for seeking permit data

By Liz Schevtchuk Armstrong

Two Putnam County officials told gun owners Jan. 25 to not let their opposition to gun recertification keep them from obeying the law or sidetrack them from their mission of defending “our individual rights.”

Addressing the Putnam County Firearm Owners Association, in Carmel, County Clerk Michael Bartolotti and County Court Judge James Reitz also criticized efforts by the news media to obtain information from handgun permits.

New York State requires permits for handguns as well as semi-automatic weapons owned before Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement (SAFE) Act into law on Jan. 15, 2013 (the law banned the sale of new assault weapons). The statute also requires that handgun registrations be recertified  every five years.

Putnam County Executive MaryEllen Odell and Michael Bartolotti, then clerk-elect, addressed a gun-rights forum in December 2014. (File photo by L.S. Armstrong)

“For better or worse,” the SAFE Act makes owners recertify their handguns and assault weapons, Bartolotti told the 50 attendees. The recertification deadline is Jan. 31, 2018. The law warns that “failure to recertify shall act as a revocation” of the permit.

“I don’t like it,” Bartolotti said of recertification, now underway through the New York State Police. “It’s silly. But don’t wait too long. Don’t let it pass you by. This is the law. We have to do it.” He said he personally found the recertification process took only about a minute. (Permits can be recertified online through safeact.ny.gov.)

While the state police handle recertification, in much of New York the initial handgun permit is issued by counties, whose clerks, such as Bartolotti, maintain the records.

In 2014 a spokesman for the New York State Police told The Current that gun owners who do not recertify “will lose their permits,” but Bartolotti said the state police have not explained what will happen if a permit holder doesn’t recertify.

“It’s going to be a daunting task if we have to do something because we’re talking about people and we’re talking about handguns,” he said. “One person might have multiple handguns. I can’t even begin to think about how this is going to be logistically handled on a county-by-county basis. It’s going to be crazy.”

He suggested that some judges might suspend the permits of those who did not recertify, while others might say, “I’m not going to do this because I think it’s a bunch of B.S.” Others, he said, might contact gun owners to see if they want to keep their permits and “maybe haul them in for a hearing.”

Recertification allows the state police “to see every five years what’s out there and be accurate,” Judge Reitz said. He advised the group not to waste energy on issues such as whether the state police should share records with the Department of Motor Vehicles. “Don’t let this nonsense about recertification cloud your view,” he said. “Look at the big picture, what is happening to our individual rights.”

He said “the law should be applied to those that break it. Those individuals who do not break the law, I don’t think you should take advantage of” or make them take responsibility for others’ misconduct. “That’s the issue to keep focused on,” he said, praising gun owners for being “very good on that in terms of the national level.”

Judge James Reitz (File photo by Michael Turton)

The state allows gun owners to “opt out” of the disclosure of the information on their permits under a catch-all exemption for anyone who “has reason to believe that he or she may be subject to unwarranted harassment upon disclosure of such information,” a step Bartolotti and Reitz both recommended.

Putnam County has consistently opposed disclosure of handgun permit data. In 2012, Dennis Sant, then county clerk, refused to release the records to The Journal News, a Gannett newspaper based in White Plains, although state law says “the name and address of any person to whom an application for any [gun] license has been granted shall be a public record.” The newspaper sought to publish the material after the gun massacre of schoolchildren and faculty in Newtown, Connecticut. Denied access to the information, the paper sued. Putnam lost in court and in a subsequent appeal and Bartolotti said the county plans no further appeals.

Asked whether anyone ever provided a “rational” reason for revealing handgun ownership, Bartolotti responded with a firm “no.” Reitz claimed The Journal News wanted the data only to sell newspapers. The newspaper was “looking for any publicity any way they could get it, to get sales up. I don’t think they had a purpose other than to create a controversy, get interest in the paper, whatever. There is no reason for that.”

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