Tonawanda News

December 4, 2013

Only 3 area SAFE Act arrests|Area police have made 3 SAFE Act accrests

By Amy Wallace amy.wallace@tonawanda-news.com
The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — Since the NY SAFE Act went into effect earlier this year, local police departments in the Tonawandas are reporting relatively low numbers of arrests for violations of the controversial law.

The NY SAFE Act was passed by the New York State Legislature on Jan. 15 and was signed into law by Gov. Andrew Cuomo on the same day.

The legislation was written in response to the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn., where 20 first-graders and six teachers were shot and killed on Dec. 14 by 20-year-old Adam Lanza. Cuomo described the law at the time as the “toughest” gun control law in the United States.

Several other states have now followed suit and enacted tougher gun control legislation of their own.

City of Tonawanda Police Lt. Fredric Foels said that the city has arrested three people for violations under the SAFE Act since the law was enacted.

“We’ve had three instances, two of which were recent and were also domestic violence calls,” Foels said. 

Foels said neither incident involved the use or threat of use of a gun but that guns were owned by the individuals living in the home.

“Whenever we go on a domestic, we always ask if there are weapons in the home,” Foels said. “We’ve been doing that for 30 years. It’s standard procedure.”

Foels explained that if guns are found in the home, police inspect the weapon and if any SAFE Act violations are found, then the suspect is charged for that. The weapons are seized during a domestic call in all cases and it is up to the courts to return the weapons, whether there was a SAFE Act violation or not.

“In one case, a man had an MP 15-22 assault rifle,” Foels said. “That is a prohibited weapon under the SAFE Act and was seized. In another recent case, the suspect had more rounds in the magazine than allowed by the law.”

North Tonawanda Police Chief William Hall said his department has not made any arrests so far this year under the SAFE Act.

Hall said that “the law has its good parts and bad parts, in my personal opinion.”

Foels also said that the law itself is very confusing.

“You really have to read into it,” Foels said. “There are so many different dos and don’ts with it.”

Foels said that his department calls the New York State Police for clarification on the law from time to time.

“We want to do everything we can to uphold the penal law of the state,” Foels added.

The SAFE Act has had its share of critics including Erie County Sheriff Timothy Howard who has said publicly he would not enforce the law. Many gun owners feel the law is an infringement on Second Amendment rights.

“I think the governor had good intentions when he enacted the law,” Foels said. “I’m sure Sheriff Howard upholds the law, especially in a domestic. He wouldn’t look the other way or turn a blind eye on that. But he is entitled to his opinion.”

Provisions of the SAFE Act include bans on possession of any “high-capacity magazines” regardless of when they were made or sold. Though the maximum capacity for all magazines is 10 rounds, the law makes it a misdemeanor to load more than seven bullets into a clip. The magazine limit took effect April 15.

Ammunition dealers are also required to do background checks, similar to those for gun buyers. Dealers are required to report all sales, including amounts, to the state. Internet sales of ammunition are allowed, but the ammunition will have to be shipped to a licensed dealer in New York state for pickup. 

The law also required the creation of a registry of assault weapons. Those New Yorkers who already own such weapons would be required to register their guns with the state. Registry began on April 15 and must be completed in a year.

Another provision requires designated mental health professionals to report the threat by a person with a gun to a mental health director, who would then have to report serious threats to the state Department of Criminal Justice Services. The state could then seize the patient’s weapons.

Stolen guns are required be reported within 24 hours. Failure to report can result in a misdemeanor, among other changes.