Tonawanda News

December 7, 2013

Erie County Sheriff explains his opposition to SAFE Act

By Jessica Bagley
The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — AMHERST — Erie County Sheriff Timothy Howard called the 52 counties that passed a resolution opposing the SAFE Act the “modern day colonies” Friday at a Ken-Ton Chamber of Commerce Luncheon.

“The power rests in Albany, and the governor is king,” he said. “He has ignored us.” 

The firearms law was passed in January after the Sandy Hook massacre that killed 20 young students and six adults. The law bans high-capacity magazines and requires ammunition dealers to complete background checks and report sales. Mental health professionals are also required to report at threat by a gun owner to a mental health director, who would then have to report serious threats to the state Department of Criminal Justice Services.

Soon after Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the bill into law, Howard publicly stated that he would not enforce it. Although many criticized him for refusing to implement the measure, his stance helped him win his re-election campaign this November.

“Many people told me to play it down, but I felt way too strongly about it to do that,” he said. “I didn’t try to dodge what I believe.”

Howard argued that the law contradicts the Constitution’s Second Amendment. He said he has filed a friend of the court brief in the lawsuit seeking to overturn the act, and will wait until the Supreme Court upholds the measure to enforce it.

“I believe the Constitution is the law of the land,” he said. 

The law, which also requires ammunition leaders to do background checks and report all sales, has done nothing to deal with criminals — who he says will break the law anyway, he said. 

“Do you think that the criminals won’t put 10 rounds in their guns? It’s the responsible gun owners that are being affected,” he said. “All this does is break down the relationships between law enforcement and public.” 

Although some audience members said they were gun owners and nodded their heads in agreement with Howard, many others weren’t as convinced. Businesswoman Adele Kelly said she grew up in a family that didn’t own guns, but that her husband is now an avid hunter. The difference in their backgrounds has led to debates, she said. 

“To me, it seems perfectly logical that we shouldn’t have assault weapons,” she said. 

In response, Howard said the concern is that the ban will lead to a slippery slope. He noted that the SAFE Act’s on assault weapons is stricter than the Brady Bill, which has since expired.

“The fear is: what comes next?” he said. 

He also touched on the death of his state trooper partner, Gary Kubasiak, who was killed in 1982.  The man who killed him, James Swan, had been treated at mental health facilities and was prohibited from buying a gun, but someone else bought one and sold it to him.

“The family of my partner doesn’t blame the gun ... they blame the person who shot him,” he said. 

Contact reporter Jessica Bagley at 693-1000, ext. 4150, or follow her on Twitter @JessicaLBagley.