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With the passage of the Cuomo gun ban, you are in a unique position as both representative of the people and enforcer of the law.
And this week, gathered in Albany for the Winter Conference of the New York Sheriffs’ Association, there is a tremendous opportunity for you and your colleagues to exercise leadership on this volatile issue.
The odds are, you are from a rural or suburban area. The odds are, the people in your county may be opposed to at least some of this new law’s provisions. There’s a fair chance you yourself are bothered by either the law or the way it was passed.
How could the state pass a law you are supposed to enforce without thinking through how you are supposed to enforce it? You’ve gotten the calls, you know the questions, how could the state have done anything this important this irresponsibly?
Further, you know that this law affects you as a person. You will retire someday, and this law won’t be about other people, it will be about you. It won’t be just the people of your county, it will be you and your family. What the governor has imposed on them, will one day effect you.
So what do you do?
Hopefully you will be, in conjunction with your fellow New York sheriffs, a first check on this law. You were not consulted as it was written, the people were kept in the dark about its contents, and only now is it being seriously discussed and dissected.
Already, there are obvious fixes that are needed. Exemptions for law-enforcement officers need to be made, or made more clear. The legislature will take this law back up. What was first done in the dark of the night will next be done in full daylight.
That means there is an opportunity for discussion, and even for change.
But the upset of the people has thus far fallen on deaf ears. People from your counties who have expressed discomfort with the law have been called “extremists” by the governor. Though some individual assemblymen and senators have criticized the bill, opponents are impotent.
Some speak of a lawsuit to challenge the law, but thus far nobody has expressed a legal theory that seems compelling. As we wonder where the Supreme Court draws the line between reasonable and unreasonable restrictions on the Second Amendment, it’s uncertain if or how the Cuomo gun ban will be challenged in court.
So that leaves you.
That leaves the sheriffs of New York as the only group of elected officials with the opportunity and the community respect necessary to challenge this law.
Thus far, law-enforcement professionals who’ve spoken on the issue have largely been big-city chiefs. They are part of city administrations typically run by liberal Democrat mayors. They have uniformly supported the law and its supposed impact. Only the sheriffs of New York have the independence to speak the truth, and publicly say that this law will do nothing to limit violence, and would have done nothing to prevent recent attacks. It is unrealistic to believe that the Cuomo gun ban will limit crimes of violence, and the sheriffs of New York need to say so.
Your association is the only statewide body of elected officials that is not dominated by New York City. You speak for upstate. Because you are elected officials, and not mere employees, you have an independent power base – the people – and the responsibility to speak for those people.
And maybe you can say this week what the constituents calling your office every day are saying – this ban is no good.
Certainly, opposing the governor can be dangerous. He may finance a candidate to run against you, he may cut state funding to your department. He may find some way to make your life miserable.
But he didn’t put your in office, the people did. And the people need a voice. The people need a place at the table. The people need to be part of the bargain.
No one believes that this law will be thrown out. But perhaps if you and the sheriffs’ association raise the issue, and offer some specific fixes, perhaps one or more of the law’s most onerous and unjust provisions can be nixed.
This law makes tens of thousands of your law-abiding constituents criminals. It moves the line of legality in such a way that good, decent, taxpaying people are made outlaws.
It is those people most of all who need your help.
One possible change in the law might be the seven-round magazine cap. Intentionally or not, the cap limits the ability of law-abiding New Yorkers to defend themselves and their homes. It also makes it very uncertain whether or not New Yorkers will be able to purchase modern semi-automatic handguns in the future.
Whereas the governor and the legislature are ignorant of guns – they are not gun people – you know what you’re talking about. You understand modern firearms, you know what the manufacturers are making and why. You carry a gun yourself. It is likely you have one at home to protect your family.
And you know that you don’t want a seven-round magazine for yourself, your deputies or your family. You also know that almost nobody makes seven-round magazines.
So possibly you could consider urging the sheriffs’ association to encourage the governor and legislature to allow people to own and use 10-round magazines for personal and home defense.
If you are legally carrying a handgun for self-defense, or you have one in your home to defend your family, please ask the state if lawful gun owners can purchase and use 10-round magazines – not just for three transitional months, but in perpetuity.
This would allow New Yorkers – like yourself in retirement – to buy and use modern handguns. It would give New Yorkers more of a fighting chance to defend themselves and their homes.
The sheriff’s association may also want to clarify for the future the role of county officials – like yourself, the county clerk and the county judges – in issuing and maintaining pistol permits. Local officials know the community and often know its members, and you are a better judge of who should and shouldn’t have a handgun than are bureaucrats at the Division of State Police in Albany. Let them take care of paperwork, if they want, and even create for themselves a new fee to impose on the people, but do all you can to keep decision making close to home.
And do all you can to let your experience and perspective influence this debate. You actually fight crime. You actually know the people of your county. You actually carry a gun. You live where the rubber meets the road.
And you are our best hope.
So please talk to the other sheriffs this month. Speak, as individuals or as an association.
Take a stand on this legislation.
You may be the only voice the residents of your county have.