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SAFE Act court challenges set for new year

File Photo
Eileen Elibol

While New York's SAFE Act has been in effect for just under six years, gun rights supporters are still pushing hard against the law and the state's complicated system of issuing hand gun permits.

It was just over a week ago that Erie County District Attorney John Flynn decided to end prosecutions under a complicated SAFE Act provision controlling how many cartridges could be in a handgun magazine. That is because of federal court decisions going back to just after the law was passed in 2013.

It was a victory for the law's opponents. Lawyer Jim Ostrowski says it is part of a long series of court cases fighting the law and the gun permit system. He represents an appeal on an individual convicted under another SAFE Act section.

"The district attorney is really saving law enforcement officials in Erie County from a lot of potential lawsuits where they could be sued and cost a lot of money for the taxpayers, for attorney's fees, damages and so on," Ostrowski said. "It's absolutely the correct decision in a complicated landmine field of legal esoterica."

In a separate case, Ostrowski will be in front of the Second Circuit federal appeals court seeking to end the state's pistol permit system on a whole series of issues, including a U.S. Supreme Court decision that threw out most of Washington, D.C.'s pistol permit system as a violation of the Second Amendment.

Ostrowski said the Supreme Court decision should be legal backing for throwing out the state's system, across the board.

"I don't think you can really justify much but the New York State system goes way beyond that, really just gives the local licensing judge or a police officer down in the city tremendous discretion to deny a permit," Ostrowski said. "So we believe that's unconstitutional, goes far beyond what Heller and McDonald would allow."

He said there is too much legal vagueness in the SAFE Act.

"The term assault rifle comes up. It's not really a scientific term. It's just somebody's opinion about what an assault rifle is," he said. "(His) case would strike down the stricter requirements of the SAFE Act, concerning various features of a rifle. The pistol permit case, depending on how it's decided, could be fairly revolutionary."

The SAFE Act case will be argued in front of the Appellate Division in Rochester Jan. 17. The challenge to the pistol permit system will be argued before the Federal Second Circuit Court of Appeals in February, with no date set.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.
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