Solon became the first town in New York on Thursday to pass a law refusing to enforce future state gun laws.
The town law, adopted unanimously at a special meeting following a public hearing, prohibits any town official or employee from participating in the enforcement of future state gun laws or from using town funds to aid in such enforcement. The town does not have its own police officers; law enforcement is provided by state police and the county sheriff’s department.
The law 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 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 firearms under federal law.
- “Prohibit in any way the prosecution of any crime for which the use of, or possession of, a firearm is an aggregating factor or enhancement to an otherwise independent crime.”
- Allow firearms possession in areas where they are now prohibited by law.
The proposed law would not apply to the enforcement of existing gun laws, including the 2013 SAFE Act.
Town Supervisor Steve Furlin characterized the law as a policy statement.
“With this local law, this town is making a statement, and that statement is, ‘No more,’” he said.
Two dozen people — including Cortland County Sheriff Mark Helms, county Republican Committee Chairwoman Connie White and James Uhlinger, a staffer for Claudia Tenney, a former congresswoman and congressional candidate — attended the meeting in the town garage.
Helms, who didn’t speak at the meeting, had previously said he can’t “pick and choose which laws that I’ll enforce” as sheriff.
White, who said she hadn’t read the law, said she supported “the community pushing back” against intrusive state laws.
Five of the six people who spoke in the public hearing voiced support for the law, including Damian Walker, who said that while he supported the town’s effort, he didn’t think the law went far enough. He distributed a copy of a template of a tougher law prepared by the Gun Owners of America, a pro-gun group that takes an even harder line on gun rights than the National Rifle Association.
Marathon Mayor William McGovern, who was wearing an NRA baseball cap, also spoke in favor of the law, saying the state government was slowly stripping residents of their rights.
“What they’re doing is taking your rights away one layer at a time,” McGovern said.
Gus Wehbe, a trustee from the town of Truxton, congratulated the board and said he hopes Truxton will soon pass a similar law. The town of Truxton has scheduled a public hearing on its own proposed gun law for March 18. Wehbe also presented Solon officials with a large board with the text of the Second Amendment carved into it.
Resident Alison King, the only person to voice concerns about the law, said she was worried about its legal consequences and whether it might interfere with the enforcement of extreme risk protection orders. She also suggested that since it “would be enforced through lawsuits … the main impact of this proposed law would be income for lawyers without meaningful benefit to residents of Solon.”
Solon’s law was drafted by Furlin and board member Brian Guernsey, who both said they want Solon to provide a model for other towns.
In addition to Truxton, the towns of Virgil and Cuyler and the village of McGraw are also considering similar proposals, and a resident of Willet said Thursday night that he intends to push that town’s board to join. At least one town in Cayuga County is also considering following suit.
Furlin said the effort was to counter what he sees as overreach by a state government attuned more to the needs of urban rather than rural constituents.
“We are not New York City. Our lives are vastly different from those in New York City. We are country folk,” Furlin said before the vote. “We’ve been called everything — redneck, hick, cowboy. Well, guess what? I think the government has hopefully met its match with this board. I think it will continue with Truxton, and I think once this rolls, the governor will get a clear understanding that we are not woodchucks, we are not rednecks and we are not hillbillies.”
Robert Spitzer, chairman of the political science department at SUNY Cortland and an expert in the history of U.S. gun policy, said he was disappointed to learn the Solon board had passed the law.
“I think it’s a shame that they did, and I think it’s a mistake,” he said.
The law “violates the oath they took when they were sworn in as elected officials, and there are other ways to register disagreements with state law then to promise to violate state law,” Spitzer said.
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 gun 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 than 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.