Fulton County Sheriff Richard Giardino and state Assemblyman Robert Smullen, R-Meco, Tuesday night warned gun owners that, although they don’t agree with the new sweeping state gun control law passed in July, they should all expect that starting Sept. 1 it will be illegal for them to take their weapons into almost any public place.
Smullen and Giardino said the gun control law will make carrying a concealed firearm into any of the list of “sensitive places” listed in the legislation a class E felony, even for the approximately 15,000 pistol permit holders in the Fulton County.
“You now have to be careful,” Smullen said. “As a law abiding gun owner, you must be careful so as not to put yourself into a position where you could be made into a criminal by a law that’s moved the goal post.”
Smullen and Giardino spoke for approximately an hour in front of roughly 65 people at the Meco Volunteer Fire Department. The purpose of the gathering was to explain the new law and help prepare gun owners for what’s to come in the fall.
The state’s gun control law rests on the the 2007 U.S. Supreme Court case “District of Columbia v. Heller,” in which former Associate Justice Antonin Scalia, wrote the majority 5-4 opinion that established for the first time that the Second Amendment right to “keep and bear arms” was an individual right not connected to service in a militia. Scalia’s court opinion also stated, “… nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.”
Gov. Kathy Hochul signed the new gun control rules as part of a 10-bill package aimed at addressing what advocates of the laws call legal loopholes exposed by the mass shooters in Buffalo and Uvalde, Texas.
“Research has shown that violent crime involving firearms increases by 29 percent when people are given the right to carry handguns, caused in part by a 35 percent increase in gun theft and a 13 percent decrease in the rate that police solved cases,” reads a statement from Hochul’s office.
Smullen said he would support legislation to allow New York City to have its own gun laws that are completely separate from upstate New York, including their own list of felonies, essentially splitting the state into autonomous legal zones, an arrangement that does not exist elsewhere among states in the U.S.
The new gun control law designates these areas as “sensitive locations”:
• Bars and restaurants that serve alcohol
• Daycare facilities, playgrounds and other locations where children gather
• Educational Institutions
• Emergency shelters, including domestic violence shelters and homeless shelters
• Entertainment venues
• Federal, state, and local government buildings
• Health and medical facilities
• Houses of worship
• Polling sites
• Public demonstrations and rallies
• Public transportation including subways and buses
• Times Square
Smullen said the new state control rules go much too far in designating so many “sensitive places” where guns can be prohibited. He said the state was also irresponsible in tasking the state police to enforce such a sweeping law without the manpower to do so.
The assemblyman also said, if it were up to him, he would narrow the list of sensitive places down to the three that U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Clarence Thomas included in his majority opinion in the more recent “New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen,” which overturned New York state’s 110-year-old pistol permit system, prompting Hochul and the state Democrats to enact the new control rules.
“I would go right to Justice Clarence Thomas’ definition of historical sensitive places where firearms could be prohibited, and it’s three of them: polling places, legislative bodies and courts,” he said.
The new gun control laws do not prohibit private property owners of establishments, such as bars, restaurants, shops or grocery stores from allowing people to carry concealed firearms, if they indicate their permission in the form of public signage.
“Property owners who do decide to allow concealed carry will have to disclose with signage saying concealed carry is allowed on the premises,” reads a statement from Hochul’s office. “This allows people to make an informed decision on whether or not they want to be in a space where people could potentially be carrying a weapon.”
Giardino said the Fulton County Sheriff’s Association, which is the nonprofit corporation of the sheriff’s department, has created about 250 signs that say “Notice: Lawful Concealed Carry Permitted on these Premises” in bright red letters over black text flanked by two Fulton County Sheriff’s stars, which states “We Support your 2nd Amendment Right. Support Businesses that Support the Constitution.”
Giardino said he’s given out about 75 of the signs, and also said a smaller less “provocative” sign is available at the Pine Tree Rifle Club, which he said hundreds of people have taken. He said so far none of the major corporate chain stores have expressed interest in the signs.
“A lot of businesses around here, until Sept. 1, had always welcomed carry concealed [people], and most people didn’t even know the person sitting at the next seat at the counter had a concealed firearm,” he said. “I haven’t kept a list [of the businesses that have taken the signs], but I know one of them is Let’s Twist Again in Perth.”
Giardino said that, as a lawyer, he realizes that putting up the signs may incur some liability for the property owner in terms of being held civilly responsible for the consequences of allowing people with concealed carry permits to bring guns onto their property.
“For 100 years people have been able to carry, and people go in every day into Walmart or Runnings, or Friendly’s or Stewarts and they don’t even know that people have concealed carry [firearms], but once there’s an affirmative sign, my bet as a lawyer, and a judge and a sheriff is that insurance company’s will latch onto that and try to increase insurance rates,” he said.
Vince Perrella, who owns an auto repair shop, said he will put up one of the signs allowing people to bring guns into his business.
“I have no problem with it,” he said. “I’m sure I have a few [customers that do it now]. I think the biggest thing is I travel back and forth from work and I carry money. So, I’ve always [carried a firearm] back and forth from work. So, if I have to put it into a lockbox, I might as well not take it. And what I think they’re trying to do is for people who don’t have a [concealed carry] permit to make it so hard that they’ll just say ‘Nah, I won’t do it,’ and in time they will cut down on the number of people who have guns.”
Smullen said it’s important for people to understand that the “Adirondack Park” area is not considered to be a state park for the purposes of the new gun laws, so people can still keep firearms in homes built inside the blue line of the state forest preserve area, which includes significant portions of Fulton County. Smullen said gun owners should be wary about taking their guns through any “node of transport” however, which he believes the law prohibits, including bridges, subways, buses, and even state highways or waterways.
Both Smullen and Giardino said they support legal challenges to the new gun control laws, calling them unconstitutional in their view, but cautioned that they must be followed until the court system either issues a legal “stay” suspending the gun control law until a decision is made on whether it’s constitutional, or the law is overturned completely.
One man asked whether the election of Republican gubernatorial candidate Lee Zeldin over Hochul, who signed the gun control law, could result in the law being changed through the legislative process.
Smullen said he doubts any reform of the gun control in Albany is possible regardless of whether Zeldin is elected, because it passed by a 2-1 majority in the state Legislature, where the Democratic Party holds a super-majority in both the Assembly and the state Senate. He said the only chance gun rights advocates have to change the new law is for the court system to either overrule it entirely or significantly modify it.
Giardino said he still thinks it’s a good thing the conservative majority of the Supreme Court overturned New York state’s old pistol permit system, which he used for many years as a county judge. He said, for the first two-thirds of his tenure as a judge, he would usually only issue restrictive pistol permits for the first year after someone applied and then, with his discretion, allow a concealed carry permit after the first year, but he said in the last third of his judgeship he started allowing concealed carry permits for nearly all applicants immediately because he decided that law abiding citizens need to have access to firearms after presiding over many criminal cases in Schenectady County.
Giardino said he liked having discretion as a judge, but he agrees with the Supreme Court’s ruling that showed it to be too inequitable between different county judges throughout the state, even though that ruling ultimately prompted the new gun control law under Hochul. He said he still thinks it’s important for people to vote for political candidates that support their interpretation of the Second Amendment.