Gov. David A. Paterson's proposal requiring criminal background checks every five years for lifetime pistol permit holders unfairly targets gun owners and places an undue burden on counties, some north country officials say.
"I'm too thinly staffed to keep up with the workload that will come with it," St. Lawrence County Clerk Patricia A. Ritchie said. "We're never going to be able to keep up with it with the system we have. It's going to require more staff, which will result in higher local costs. It's going to be a big burden on the county."
The governor on May 28 announced proposed legislation requiring criminal background checks for gunsmith and gun dealer employees who handle firearms, and background checks every five years for lifetime pistol permit holders as well as whenever a gun owner, gunsmith or gun dealer license is renewed.
It also requires that misdemeanor domestic violence crimes be reported to the national criminal database so that no one convicted of such a crime can have a gun license.
The legislation, according to the governor's press release, "will close gaps in New York law that may allow persons to obtain or retain firearms licenses even though they are barred by federal law from possessing those weapons."
But Jefferson County Undersheriff Timothy M. Dowe said there already are procedures to prevent permit holders from keeping their licenses if they commit crimes.
"If someone is entered into our computerized system showing that they have a pistol permit and the person is arrested, there is an alert in our system," he said.
"An officer generally would then write a notice to the judge, and then the judge makes a decision about whether to suspend, revoke or do anything with the pistol permit."
He said Family Court judges and town justices also can order that all firearms in a household be seized temporarily if an order of protection is issued after a domestic incident.
"I think it's highly unlikely for someone who is convicted of a crime to not be detected," Lewis County Sheriff L. Michael Tabolt said. "I think the system is good the way it is, but if the governor chooses to change the law and it's passed by the Legislature, we'll have to go along with it."
Mrs. Ritchie said if the governor's proposal becomes reality, it could significantly increase the workload for her office, county law enforcement and courts.
She said letters will have to be sent to all pistol permit holders when they need to undergo a five-year or renewal background check, their responses will have to be recorded, and staff will have to notify the County Court judge when a permit holder doesn't respond so that he or she can suspend or revoke the license.
Mrs. Ritchie said law enforcement then will have to pick up the permit holder's license and weapons.
"We will have an influx of all pistol permit customers, which in our county is just under 17,000," she said.
"It will be a lot of work, and a lot of hassle for law-abiding gun owners."