Officials: Gov't red tape shouldn't keep threatened people from protecting themselves
Christian W. Peck
Public Information Officer
Niagara County Public Information Office
After hearing an alarming story about a woman who was threatened and applied for a pistol permit in New Jersey, only to be stabbed to death as her permit slowly wound its way through government channels, Niagara County leaders have moved to implement new procedures to fast-track pistol permits for county residents with verifiable threats to their safety.
"The right to self-defense in the Second Amendment is near absolute," said Legislator John Syracuse, R-Newfane, who has been the lawmaking body's most prominent leader in protecting access to gun rights. "When someone's life is demonstrably in danger, government red tape shouldn't tie them up and keep them from protecting themselves and their families."
Syracuse and several legislative colleagues joined County Clerk Joseph Jastrzemski, Sheriff James R. Voutour, County Manager Rick Updegrove, the judge with concealed carry licensing authority, and members of the Shooters Committee on Political Education (SCOPE) in informal talks several weeks ago to devise a strategy to fast-track pistol permits in what Syracuse termed "the very rare, but very real" situations where a pistol permit applicant could demonstrate "with assistance from the sheriff's office and their victim advocates" that they face a threat of violence.
Jastrzemski called the new rules "smart and focused."
"We acknowledge our residents' rights under the Second Amendment, but we also have a legal obligation to uphold New York's carry permit laws," Jastrzemski said. "What we want to do, then, is make sure that, for the most vulnerable, those laws don't have the effect of making them even less safe. By fast-tracking individuals that have not just a right to protect themselves with a firearm, but a very immediate, very real reason, we are making personal safety our first consideration."
Jastrzemski also noted the county's pistol permit office had succeeded in reducing overall wait times for applicants with clean records to 3-4 months, making Niagara County among the fastest permit issuers in the state. "We do our best to ensure our residents have access to their rights as fast as possible. But, in some rare cases, even that's not fast enough; we recognize it's not, and we are taking this step to remedy that."
Voutour, whose victims' assistance office will help identify individuals who should have their pistol permit applications fast-tracked, emphasized the new process would be used to help individuals in extreme cases, and said measures focused on public safety would remain in place.
"We suspect the need for a fast-tracked permit process will be very rare. In the event a case is discovered or presented to us, the sheriff's office and county clerk's office will work in unison to move the process quickly while still maintaining the integrity of the background check process," he said.
Joined by members of a women's shooting league, the county leaders rolled out the new fast-track procedures at a Thursday night shoot at the North Forest Rod & Gun Club in Lockport. Implementing what Updegrove called "commonsense improvements" to the current pistol permit application process, the fast-track rules are designed to avert tragedies like the murder of Carol Bowne, who was stabbed to death by an ex-boyfriend in her New Jersey driveway despite an order of protection - and a delayed pistol permit application.
The new rules were designed after the issue was brought to county officials by SCOPE, the Second Amendment advocacy group that has worked vigorously to challenge the state's SAFE Act gun control regime. One of SCOPE's top leaders noted the new policies were the result of conversations between the sheriff's office, the county clerk's office, county lawmakers, and SCOPE itself, and had led to what he called "effective, real citizen input in government."
"The restraining order Carol Bowne had against her ex-boyfriend did not stop him from stalking her," SCOPE Co-Chairman John Peracciny said. "The alarm system she installed in her home could not provide any warning to her. The police could not get to her in time. What could have given her a fighting chance would have been the handgun she was waiting to purchase once her long-overdue permit was granted.
"We don't want that to happen here. Now, a fast-track process can now be initiated for those legitimately at risk and completed in the matter of a few weeks (instead of) the current, normal processing time of a few months. Had such a process been available for Carol Bowne in New Jersey, she may have had the lifesaving tool she needed when seconds counted."
Even as Voutour and Jastrzemski explained the new procedures on Thursday night, the pair found themselves pausing momentarily to hash out some final details of implementation.
"It's a good policy, and one that represents a collaborative effort," Voutour said.
Peracciny added, "In Niagara County, government listened and worked with us to help make the public safer, which is the most important goal of the gun rights community."
Pictured: Niagara County Clerk Joseph Jastrzemski and Sheriff James R. Voutour discuss the implementation of a new "fast-track" procedure for pistol permits during a meeting with other county officials and representatives of the Shooters Committee on Political Education held at the North Forest Rod & Gun Club in Lockport. Looking on, seated, are Colleen Gaskill, Mary Case and Jacquelyn Mitchell; and standing are legislators David Godfrey, R-Wilson, and John Syracuse, R-Newfane, North Forest President Ken Kalino, SCOPE Co-Chairman John Peracciny, Georgina Grosofsky and SCOPE Secretary Ed Pettitt.