Vows clerk's office will work to protect rights of pistol permit holders, ensure gun owners able to easily re-register
By Christian W. Peck
Niagara County Public Information Officer
Niagara County Clerk Joseph A. Jastrzemski is urging state leaders and the New York State Police to implement a plan for pistol permit recertification that is "both simple and nonintrusive, and that doesn't put gun owners' rights in jeopardy."
Jastrzemski also vowed his office would do its utmost to make recertification "painless and quick" for Niagara County pistol permit holders. The recertification, like the pistol permits themselves, only applies to handguns, and not long guns.
"The SAFE Act is a mess, and has been since it was passed. Even now, there is no clear plan in place for the pistol permit recertification - and that recertification process will almost certainly cost our county taxpayers even as it inconveniences law-abiding gun owners," Jastrzemski said. "However, we have to comply with this requirement. Our pistol permit holders have to comply, or their pistol permits will be put in jeopardy. That's not our office's decision, that's the position of the State Police."
Jastrzemski indicated the new head of the State Police Pistol Permit Bureau had briefed the New York State Association of County Clerks in late September, but that he and many other county clerks had found the information provided created more questions than it answered.
"The Niagara County Clerk's Office intends to do everything it can when we're finally notified how this recertification is going to work," Jastrzemski said. "So far, our understanding is that there will be a web page and that all recertifications will be performed online. We will make sure we provide resources so that doesn't place the rights of pistol permit holders without internet access at risk."
There still is no launch date for the recertification website. That has left county lawmakers concerned, according to Legislator John Syracuse, R-Newfane, who has functioned as the governing majority caucus's gun rights czar in recent years.
"I've talked to my colleagues and to sportsmen and gun owners throughout the county, and the lack of a discernible plan, the lack of guidance at this point, is troubling," Syracuse said Monday afternoon. "The Cuomo administration has placed this burdensome new requirement on our pistol permit holders, but hasn't even told us how it's going to be implemented or enforced a year out from the deadline. We don't even know the web address yet. That's unacceptable."
Jastrzemski said the State Police's planned online-only recertification process underlined a key flaw in the SAFE Act, authored by Sen. Jeffrey D. Klein, D-Bronx, which heavily impacts pistol permit holders in upstate counties.
"People who live in rural areas tend to be gun owners," Jastrzemski said. "They also tend to have the worst internet access."
Jastrzemski pointed to a survey, conducted by the Niagara-Orleans Regional Alliance, which found 4,000 homes in the Niagara-Orleans region had no access to an internet service provider, and 20,000 to 30,000 homes had no access to high-speed internet.
"Obviously, an online-only recertification discriminates against rural gun owners," Jastrzemski said. "We'll do our best to mitigate that in the county Pistol Permit Office."
Jastrzemski said he was working with county officials to ensure a computer terminal will be available in the Pistol Permit Office for the sole purpose of recertification.
"We're going to do everything we can to protect our pistol permit holders' ability to protect themselves and their families," Jastrzemski said.
Jastrzemski said that, while he does not agree with the SAFE Act, the reality for Niagara County gun owners is that they have to abide by it, as it is state law.
"Whether you got your pistol permit 40 years ago, or in November 2016, the reality is, you're going to have to recertify, and most likely before the end of 2017," Jastrzemski said.
Under the SAFE Act's provisions, all pistol permits issued prior to January 2013 must be recertified by Jan. 31, 2018, with others following on a five-year recertification schedule thereafter.
"Our biggest concern right now is that every pistol permit holder is diligent about doing this, because the law says the state 'shall revoke' the permits we issued if they fail to recertify," Jastrzemski said.
Jastrzemski noted the State Police indicated it would bring discrepancies in recertifications to the county clerks, and that his office would be proactive about speedily resolving such issues so that permits are not placed in jeopardy. He also noted the State Police had been clear individuals whose pistol permits were not recertified because they were not notified due to a change of address would not see their permits revoked.
Jastrzemski added he is reviewing options for contacting pistol permit holders when the recertification website is launched, and that, as the State Police will provide his office with a list of both which permit holders had recertified and which had yet to, he and his staff would make every reasonable attempt to help pistol permit holders meet the legal requirement.
"No one likes this law, but we will do everything we can to ensure our pistol permit holders' rights are protected under its difficult, intrusive provisions," Jastrzemski said. "We're here to protect their rights."