October 23, 2021

Charges unlikely over lapsed pistol recertifications

‘Impossible to enforce’

Nick Graziano/contributing photographer

Doug Moss, of Creekside Firearms, displays a long barrel Smith and Wesson .44 Magnum handgun Thursday at his shop in Homer.

CORTLAND — Fewer than 2,200 of 7,000 pistol owners in Cortland have recertified their permits by Wednesday’s deadline, state records show, but the remaining 4,800 won’t face the felony charge they would otherwise because a backlog of applications would make prosecution difficult, according to state police.

In the latest numbers available to the county, 2,197 people out of about 7,000 have completed recertification under a law enacted in 2013 as part of the state’s SAFE Act. But nearly 300,000 applications statewide have yet to be processed, said state police spokesman Beau Duffy said. “It could take up to a year.”

Until then, state police also don’t plan to take any enforcement action against permit holders who have yet to recertify, Duffy said. “It’s impossible to enforce,” he said.

Cortland County Clerk Elizabeth Larkin said this morning a memorandum from the Advisory Committee on Judcial Ethics was sent to courts across the state saying judges can’t rule on revoking or suspending permits, nor conduct such a proceeding unless a prosecutor is involved, not just police.

Larkin said, hypothetically, a person stopped by police for a tail light out and found with an uncertified pistol could otherwise face revocation or suspension. The directive means a charge would have to be filed by the prosecutor.

Cortland County Sheriff Mark Helms said the Sheriff’s Office won’t confiscate any weapons, and he never planned to.

“The whole thing has been a real mess,” Helms said. “I didn’t agree with it from the start.”

The effort makes no sense to Doug Moss, owner of Creekside Firearms in Homer. State police already have a record of who owns pistols. When a shop sells a pistol, it’s added to paperwork that is sent twice to the state, once by the shop and a second time by the County Clerk’s Office.

The intent behind the recertification was to aid in creating a database, Duffy said. Through the recertification it would show the state how many active permits are out there. “It could take a year to build the first database,” he said.

What happens next with the recertification process in Cortland County is in limbo, Helms said. He has to wait to see what state police plan. While he is not a big fan of the process, Helms said he still urges people to recertify to avoid the risk of losing their right to own a gun.

Also, Duffy said state police will continue to accept the recertification paperwork.

Moss said he has seen many permit holders protest the recertification. “A lot opted to give the state a hard time with the written form,” he said.

In doing so, Moss said the written forms have backed up the system.

Cortland resident Norm Stitzel has had his concealed carry permit for about 16 years. He said he did go through the recertification process, which cost him nothing but time — a couple of minutes on a one-page form. He didn’t understand why he had to do it as there was no new information he had to provide.

“I think it is a waste of time and resources,” Stitzel said.

He did not know of anyone personally, but heard of pistol owners who had no interest in doing the recertification in protest.

“It is going to cause a problem if they try to enforce it,” Stitzel said.