August 11th, 2010 12:10 AM
Armed, and representing
Who's packing in the Legislature? You might be surprised.
Asked to describe the average handgun owner, some will conjure the image of an upstate, conservative Republican male. But the short list of lawmakers with handgun permits manages to reflect New York's diversity at least a little with men and women, conservatives and liberals represented, albeit not in equal numbers.
In the Assembly, Democrat Aileen Gunther has worked to secure funding for a performing arts center near the site of the Woodstock festival. She owns a Glock and a Ruger.
"We've always had guns in our house," said Gunther, a nurse who has a hunting camp and a shooting range at her rural home.
Is Sen. Marty Golden among the nearly 1.3 million New Yorkers listed as having a handgun permit? "I am indeed," said the Brooklyn Republican.
Golden, known for his tough-on-crime policies, is one of several lawmakers who are retired police officers. Law enforcement professionals frequently get handgun licenses when they leave the job.
All told, the Times Union identified at least a dozen lawmakers with handgun licenses.
The list is likely incomplete: It came from the combined databases of a controversial website, http://www.whospackingny.com, which got the information from the State Police. Its 1.3 million names cover gun owners dating back to 1936.
While a few of the names that turned up on the database appear to be those of lawmakers, the Times Union is listing only those that could be confirmed. Several names that were the same as those of lawmakers turned out to be different people. (A few legislators with similar names did not respond to a request for confirmation or could not be reached.)
The website made news this summer after its initial appearance brought an outcry from gun owner groups, who contend the list is a violation of owners' privacy.
State Police officials noted that the license data is public and must be made available to those who seek it under the state's Freedom of Information Law.
Against that backdrop, several lawmakers have called for the data to be shielded, triggering a growing debate in the Legislature.
"I think it's a violation of privacy," said state Sen. John DeFrancisco, a Syracuse-area Republican who is a former prosecutor and permit holder. He repeated concerns voiced by other gun advocates that the list can provide a road map of sorts to any criminal who wants to steal handguns.
Sen. Joe Griffo, R-Rome, wants to change the law so that State Police can give out handgun permit data only for those names that are requested under FOIL not the entire database.
"The bill, in my view, makes sense," remarked Buffalo-area Republican Assemblyman Mark Schroeder.
He doesn't have a permit. Nor does Seneca Falls GOP Sen. Michael Nozzolio, who wrote to Attorney General Andrew Cuomo asking him to take down the whospackingny.com site. Another critic of the site, Hudson Valley GOP Assemblyman Greg Ball who is seeking the seat of retiring Sen. Vincent Leibell doesn't turn up in the database, either.
Leibell, who said he learned to shoot in the Navy, has a permit and target-shoots for sport.
Lawmakers in some parts of the state vie for the support of guns rights groups such as the National Rifle Association; enthusiasts are known to vote in solid blocs.
Not all legislators are worried about having the handgun list made public.
"When you go for the handgun permit, you should know that the information will be out there," said Sen. Eric Adams, a Brooklyn Democrat and retired police officer who holds a permit. (Like Golden, Adams has a New York City permit that applies throughout the state.)
"On a personal basis, I don't have a problem with it," said GOP Assemblywoman Teresa Sayward, who sometimes target-shoots off the front deck of her home in rural Willsboro. "For me, it's a list like any other."
"It's no secret up here that the senator is a gun owner,'' said Drew Mangione, spokesman for North Country Sen. Darrel Aubertine, a Democrat.
"I don't think that anyone that has a pistol license would object to people knowing about it," added Republican Assemblyman Joel Miller of Poughkeepsie, who said he took up target shooting with his 9 mm handgun a few years ago after graduating from an air rifle.
With the U.S. Constitution guaranteeing the right to own a gun, Miller believes there shouldn't be secrecy surrounding it.
"Owning a firearm is a constitutional right; it's not a privilege. The fact that it outrages so many people is kind of sad," he said.
Incumbent lawmakers, of course, aren't the only New Yorkers with permits. Buffalo businessman Carl Paladino, a Republican gubernatorial candidate, is a handgun owner whose name appears in the database.
His use isn't limited to target shooting on weekend afternoons. "Carl carries everywhere it is legal," said Michael Caputo, his campaign manager.
Although Paladino has spoken of his desire to clean up Albany with a baseball bat, Caputo noted that the candidate has never brought his gun to the Capitol.
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