JOHNSTOWN — The sheriffs of both Fulton and Montgomery counties on Thursday issued statements about their districts possibly becoming “sanctuary” counties.
A Second Amendment sanctuary — also known as a gun sanctuary — refers to states, counties, or localities in the United States that have adopted laws or resolutions to prohibit or impede the enforcement of certain gun control measures perceived as violative of the Second Amendment. Those measures include universal gun background checks, high capacity magazine bans, assault weapon bans, and red flag laws.
In 2013, New York state passed the SAFE Act. After passage, New York counties started passing resolutions opposing the SAFE Act. There are currently 52 out of 62 counties with such resolutions. The New York State Sheriffs Association sued to block the law.
The New York Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act of 2013, commonly known as the NY SAFE Act, is a gun regulation passed by the state Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. The SAFE Act contains a number of firearms regulations. It also contains a severability provision that allows other measures to remain in place in case the broad prohibitions against weapons are invalidated by the courts.
On Thursday, both Fulton County Sheriff Richard Giardino and Montgomery County Sheriff Jeff Smith issued statements.
“Under my oath as the Fulton County sheriff, my oath as an admitted attorney in the state, as a former district attorney and County Court judge, I can’t refuse to enforce any duly passed law which has been found constitutional by the courts,” Giardino said. “To do so would make myself or any other sheriff derelict in their duties and subject to removal.”
In a three-page statement, Giardino indicated that a movement to designate Fulton County as a 2nd Amendment “sanctuary” county has “gained tremendous momentum” in a short amount of time.
“I have had numerous conversations with Lewis County Sheriff Mike Carpinelli, one of the strongest voices on protecting our Second Amendment rights statewide,” Giardino stated. “I have consulted with the NYS Sheriffs Association. I recently met with the principals who have been promoting and circulating the petitions throughout Fulton County. I have researched the current status of the SAFE Act and the impact of the 2A Sanctuary County Movement upon my duties and responsibilities under my oath as the Fulton County sheriff.”
Giardino notes he has been a “strong voice” in opposing the way the SAFE Act was passed into law.
“I think that the legislation deserved more scrutiny and that it should have been studied and debated and based on facts,” he said. “Instead, I think it was a rushed overreaction to a very tragic event.”
The sheriff said that in his more than 18 years as a Fulton County Court judge, less than eight of the 13,000 pistol permit holders used their lawfully-possessed handguns in crimes.
“Portions of the SAFE Act criminalized lawful handgun owners; not the actual criminals who unlawfully possessed handguns,” Giardino stated.
Under the sanctuary county ordinance, he said the county would be prohibited from spending any money, resources, personnel or facilities on enforcement of state laws regarding possession of firearms “for the most part,” Giardino said.
“In my four years as sheriff, we have only charged four individuals with SAFE Act violations,” Giardino stated. “Those individuals had other initial charges and also violated the SAFE Act. We have not gone door-to-door seeking SAFE Act violations, nor will we as long as I am the Fulton County sheriff. I do not have the staff and other resources to make the SAFE Act a priority at this time or in the foreseeable future.”
Smith said Montgomery County has also had its share of dialogue about becoming a sanctuary county.
“As your sheriff, I was contacted and asked if I would take the lead and declare Montgomery County a sanctuary county,” Smith stated. “I write this letter to educate, explain, clarify and present my position on this topic …”
Smith said declaring Montgomery County a sanctuary county is “basically encouraging people to not obey the law.”
“I certainly support and appreciate the efforts to petition, rally, encourage and discuss all options pertaining to a Sanctuary 2A county,” he said.
But he said he won’t take a “lead role” in the potential declaration of Montgomery County as a sanctuary county.
Hamilton County Sheriff Karl Abrams couldn’t be reached Monday for comment.
Michael Anich covers Johnstown and Fulton County news. He can be reached at [email protected]