Solon is one step closer to being the first town in New York to refuse to abide by future state gun laws.
The town board introduced a proposed law Monday night that would, if passed, direct town officials and employees to refuse to comply with the enforcement of any future state gun laws.
That proposal will go before a public hearing at 7 p.m. Feb. 25 at Solon Town Hall.
The proposed law will likely be voted on following the public hearing, which might be held in the adjacent town garage if additional seating is required, Supervisor Steve Furlin said.
The proposed law would prohibit any town official or employee from participating in the enforcement of future state gun laws or from using any town funds to aid in such enforcement. The town does not have any police officers.
It would also allow Solon residents to sue anyone accused of violating the law in state Supreme Court for “declaratory and injunctive relief, damages, and attorney’s fees” as well as civil fines between $500 and $2,000.
The proposed law has three exceptions. It would not:
- Apply to convicted felons or those prohibited from possessing rearms under federal law.
- “Prohibit in any way the prosecution of any crime for which the use of, or possession of, a rearm is an aggregating factor or enhancement to an otherwise independent crime.”
- Allow rearms possession in areas where they are currently prohibited by law.
The proposed law would not apply to the enforcement of current gun laws, including the 2013 SAFE Act.
Furlin said officials in four Cortland County municipalities — Cuyler, McGraw, Truxton and Virgil — as well as at least one in Cayuga County have contacted town officials to express interest in passing similar laws.
Two other New York municipalities — Wyoming County and the town of Grand Island — passed resolutions opposing state gun laws in January 2019, but both of these measures stop short of calling for the non-enforcement of state laws.
More than 400 municipalities in 20 states have passed measures opposing state or federal guns laws, according to The Trace, a nonprofit news group that focuses on gun issues. In the span of two months last year, Virginia saw more 120 towns, cities, and counties pass such measures. Also, dozens of county sheriffs in New Mexico, Washington, Nevada, Oregon and Illinois have vowed not to enforce certain gun laws.
Robert Spitzer, chairman of the political science department at SUNY Cortland and an expert in the history of U.S. gun policy, said the Solon proposal “is a terrible and unlawful idea.”
“The general idea of local governments passing ordinances or resolutions saying they’re not going to enforce state laws that they don’t like is a terrible idea,” Spitzer said. “It’s a violation of their oaths … and it serves no good purpose.”
There are other ways municipalities can signal objections or disapproval to state or federal laws, and such ordinances are commonplace, he said.
“But to go beyond that and say that we’re not going to enforce certain laws, they have no legal basis for doing that,” Spitzer said.
Spitzer also argued the proposed law “misunderstands and distorts Second Amendment rights as defined in law” and would set up an arbitrary point after which the town would consider new guns as unconstitutional. Furthermore, town officials would claim “a unique right to decide for themselves to decide which state laws they will and will not follow” while giving residents “a self-defined ‘right’” to sue anyone attempting to enforce a future legitimate law, he said.
Furlin said he and town board member Brian Guernsey drafted the proposed law, which was then put into legal form by Town Attorney Don Armstrong. The proposal, he said, is an original one.
“I was up all hours of the night researching and reading,” he said. “I’m very proud of what we have.”
The proposed law, he said, is intended to prevent further encroachment by the state on the rights of gun owners. Law-abiding rural gun owners, Furlin said, are being punished by continually expanding state gun restrictions.
“Where does it stop?” Furlin said.