This is one case where I have to give the New York Times full credit. They have managed – at least in part – to dredge some information out of the New York State government which I have been unsuccessfully trying to obtain since May of this year. (More on that saga below.) The paper has now released details of a database kept by Empire State law enforcement of people who have had their Second Amendment rights terminated on the basis of being “mentally unstable.” The number of people in this database – created as a result of the odious New York SAFE Act – has swollen in a little over a year to more than 34,000 names.
A newly created database of New Yorkers deemed too mentally unstable to carry firearms has grown to roughly 34,500 names, a previously undisclosed figure that has raised concerns among some mental health advocates that too many people have been categorized as dangerous.
The database, established in the aftermath of the mass shooting in 2012 at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., and maintained by the state Division of Criminal Justice Services, is the result of the Safe Act. It is an expansive package of gun control measures pushed through by the administration of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo. The law, better known for its ban on assault weapons, compels licensed mental health professionals in New York to report to the authorities any patient “likely to engage in conduct that would result in serious harm to self or others.”
This should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with Andrew Cuomo and the New York Democrat party. Efforts to get this blatantly unconstitutional law overturned in the courts have thus far failed, but this revelation should add new fuel to the fire and inspire people to redouble their efforts. For the vast majority of the people on this huge list, they have never had a day in court to challenge their accusers as to their fitness to exercise their Second Amendment rights, nor have they been adjudicated as being truly dangerous. In New York you can show up on this list and lose your rights simply because some anonymous “medical professional” (who doesn’t even have to be a doctor) has reported you.
What’s really shocking is that the Times actually got any information at all. New York has been secretive to the point of paranoia regarding the implementation of this law. As mentioned above, I began knocking on the doors of Albany over this issue back in May. I filed a series of Freedom of Information Law requests asking for the total number of persons who have had their weapons confiscated under the provisions of the NY SAFE Act, their names, addresses and the status of any charges filed against them. The original response I received from Valerie Friedlander at the Division of Criminal Justice was, in its entirety, as follows:
Dear Mr. Shaw
Please be advised that the Division of Criminal Justice Services has no records which are responsive to your request.
I appealed this decision and, in September, I received a more lengthy – though no more helpful – response from Gina L. Bianchi on the Committee on Open Government.
As we previously advised you, the Division has no records which are responsive to your request. Please be advised that, pursuant to Penal Law §400.00(11), a firearms license is revoked upon a conviction for a felony or a serious offense. Additionally, a judge or justice of a court of record or a licensing officer may revoke or suspend a license. If a license is revoked or suspended, the license holder must surrender the license to the county licensing officer and all firearms, rifles and shotguns must be surrendered to an appropriate law enforcement agency. Accordingly, any data pertaining to the surrender of firearms would be maintained by the county licensing officer and/or police agencies within the State. Such information is not reported to the Division. Crime data and criminal history record information maintained by the Division does not reflect whether an individual was required to surrender weapons.
Please be advised that pursuant to Public Officers Law §89(4)(b), you may initiate a court proceeding pursuant to Civil Practice Laws and Rules Article 78 for review of the portions of your request that were denied.
As I wrote in a follow-up, this answer seemed not only unsatisfactory, but highly unbelievable. I noted to the committee that with only a few clicks of the mouse, anyone could visit criminaljustice.ny.gov/ and find similar statistics, broken down by county, for crimes ranging from violent offenses such as murder and rape to offenses including DWI, drug possession and theft of property. The idea that they don’t track weapons confiscations is highly suspect to say the least.
But the Times didn’t ask for the actual records of confiscations. They asked about the database of all names which have been added to the government’s No Guns For You list. I see that New York is sticking by their secretive policy and claiming that they can’t name the people on the list because of concerns over medical records privacy. This is also preposterous. Nobody is asking to see their medical records, just the public record of our law enforcement agencies who are taking action against citizens.
I was advised that the only way I could proceed would be to request interviews with the individual sheriffs of each of New York’s 62 counties. This process has begun, but the stonewalling at every turn is frustrating beyond belief. We already know that gun confiscation has been taking place in New York since the new law was passed thanks to the unfortunate experience of David Lewis. But it’s taking place under the covers and the state is still fighting tooth and claw to prevent anyone from finding out the details. This must end. We have the right to know what the government is doing, particularly on such a sensitive issue which affects the constitutional rights of our citizens.
UPDATE: (Jazz) More on the history of these laws from Outside the Beltway.
If you happen to take the view that the best way to approach this issue is a “better safe than sorry” approach, then it likely isn’t a problem for you that people who shouldn’t be dragged into the Safe Act’s net are being deprived of their right to own weapons, a right guaranteed by the Second Amendment and that the Supreme Court recognized in District of Columbia v. Heller and McDonald v. Chicago. More importantly, they are being denied those rights without any notice until a decision is made any then given the burden of having to apply to a court to try to overturn the decision of the permitting authority. Given that in many cases in some of New York State’s rural counties those are sometimes the same people, or at least people who are closely related politically and personally, the odds are often stacked against a gun owner who has had their property taken from them without due process or proper notice. Regardless of how one feels about gun rights, that ought to be troubling.