2013-01-09 / Front Page

County Looks to Legal Fight in Gun Permit Records

Refuses to hand over data to Gannett
By Eric Gross


From left, Clerk Dennis Sant, County Executive MaryEllen Odell, Assemblyman Steve Katz and state Sen. Greg Ball support Putnam not releasing the records of gun permit holders, saying it would endanger thousands. Sheriff Smith weighs in on balancing the right to know and public safety, see p. 7. 
Douglas Cunningham From left, Clerk Dennis Sant, County Executive MaryEllen Odell, Assemblyman Steve Katz and state Sen. Greg Ball support Putnam not releasing the records of gun permit holders, saying it would endanger thousands. Sheriff Smith weighs in on balancing the right to know and public safety, see p. 7. Douglas Cunningham Putnam County’s moment in the sun, or perhaps in the bull’s eye, began Thursday afternoon and could take months if not years to wind through the courts.

Putnam County officials, including County Clerk Dennis Sant and Executive Mary- Ellen Odell, backed by state Sen. Greg Ball, Assemblyman Steve Katz and both the district attorney and sheriff, told the Westchester-based Journal News newspaper to take a hike in its quest for pistol permit information of more than 11,000 residents licensed to own handguns throughout the county. Putnam’s denial of the records has prompted a firestorm of attention, including nationwide media appearances by several officials.

Odell and Sant, in a packed news conference last week that drew at least 10 broadcast outlets from New York City and the region, vowed to fight the newspaper’s request that such data should be released under the state’s Freedom of Information Law.

Odell called the demand a “public safety issue” adding “I will not retreat or surrender. This is an issue about privacy and the safety of the community.”

Sant went even further, charging the newspaper’s request was an “invasion of privacy. Because of the paper’s publishing such information in Westchester and Rockland counties, more than 40,000 people feel their lives are now at risk.”

Putnam resident Betsy Rose carried a sign opposing the Journal News at last week’s news conference and said the “paper may have a right to print the permit holders’ names but for God sake, don’t print their addresses. That’s crazy and it’s a violation of privacy.”

Putnam’s new legislature chairman, Richard Othmer of Kent, agreed.

During an interview Sunday, Othmer charged that “technology had outpaced laws. Google maps make it easy for anyone to zoom in on a resident once an address is published. Law-biding citizens are being taken advantage of.”

Othmer also believes that mental health must factor into the equation. “Automatic background checks must take place whenever an individual is examined by a psychologist, psychiatrist or social worker to determine whether or not firearms are legally licensed in the individual’s place of residence,” he said.

On Sunday, U.S. Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand announced their co-sponsoring of legislation designed to crack down on gun trafficking while tightening background checks. The pair called on Congress to pass a bill that would require states to send records of the mentally ill, felons and drug abusers to a federal database for background checks on gun buyers.

Meanwhile, District Attorney Adam Levy expressed concern that if the information is released to the paper, “innocent people may find themselves as targets of a criminal element. The newspaper should be very concerned about who is reviewing the information and how they are going to use it to potentially commit further crimes.”

The Putnam officials said that releasing the names would endanger thousands of law-abiding permit holders and needlessly put at risk domestic violence victims, current and retired police officers and other citizens. In addition, gun owners might be targeted for thefts, but likewise, homes without guns might be regarded as easy targets.

The Journal News failed to respond to repeated requests for comment, including whether any precautions were taken to protect domestic violence victims.

Cuomo to seek new gun restrictions

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, in his State of the State address Wednesday afternoon, called for new restrictions on guns, including passing “the toughest assault weapons ban in the country” and eliminating highcapacity magazines.

Cuomo also called for any privateparty sales to require background checks, for enhanced penalties for gun trafficking or using guns on school property, and for better reporting by mental health professionals. Guns could then be removed in the case of mentally disturbed people who may be at risk of harming themselves or others. In a departure from current practice, the governor also called for a statewide standard for pistol permits to ensure that appropriate checks are run.

Views on gun issues are split by geography and party lines in Albany, with northern and western lawmakers tending to be more supportive of the Second Amendment. “With the nation still reeling from the senseless massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, and our State still mourning the loss of first responders in Webster’s shooting tragedy, New York must say enough is enough to gun violence,” the governor told lawmakers.

— Douglas Cunningham

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