Cortland County legislators amended a proposal Tuesday to ban weapons from county property — allowing no exemptions to the policy it eventually adopts — but stopped short of moving the policy to the full Legislature.
Federal law prohibits the possession of firearms or other weapons in federal facilities by anyone not specifically authorized, however, county government buildings do not have the same set rules.
The county Legislature’s Buildings and Grounds Committee disagreed on who would be exempt from the ban, particularly off-duty police and people who have a license for concealed carry of a handgun.
“This policy says nobody in the building but our law enforcement (can carry a weapon),” said city Police Chief Paul Sandy, whose agency would be the first to respond to an incident at the County Office Building. “There is no reason for a civilian to have one, because you should be stopping them at the door. Let the law enforcement do their job.”
The policy would require using a metal detector at the office building entrance.
“I challenge you to find a government that allows civilians to be armed, because most of them do require even law enforcement to disarm when they come in,” Sandy said. “That’s gun control, that’s gun control that stopped them at the door.”
Sheriff Mark Helms, whose staff provides security for the County Office Building, spoke in support of prohibiting weapons, as long as law enforcement officers can safely do their jobs.
“There is really no place that you can go in a county or federal building where they allow citizens to come in armed,” Helms said.
Helms said he’s concerned about the potential of someone entering the County Office Building with a weapon, getting into a disagreement or conflict, and turning violent.
Several legislators said the proposed policy left too much room for interpretation on what constitutes proper licensing to carry a weapon. The committee voted unanimously to remove a section of policy granting exceptions to certain individuals via “extreme circumstances” or an application to carry a firearm or weapon on county property.
“I do not believe any of the other industries that we have here allow weapons on their premises with their employees,” said Legislator Kevin Fitch (RHomer, Preble, Scott). “We treat this as a business, so this whole thing should be no weapons for anything except for law enforcement. If I’m coming into work, I’m not going to bring my weapon to work.”
But not everyone feels completely safe at work.
“I was surrounded after leaving a meeting one night, by a bunch of people — they were very angry, very aggressive,” said Joe Nauseef (U-Cortlandville). “I didn’t know if I was going to get shot or stabbed. It was a very tense situation for a while, but I was able to get away from it and get out of there.”
Nauseef said he understands why people want to exercise their constitutional rights to carry a weapon and protect themselves.
Sandy suggested that if Nauseef, or any other county employees feel unsafe walking to their car, they should call police.
“If we think there’s going to be a problem, we’re certainly here to try to stave that off,” Sandy said. “We’re right there, we’re the ones who are trained. But if you take that situation, and you yourself are armed, my guys are going to show up and we’re looking for the guy with a gun. They’re not going to know who you are — they’re going to see you waving a gun around.”
The committee voted, 2-5, against adopting the policy, but committee Chairman Beau Harbin (D-Cortland) said that was to give time to answer questions and discuss the policy with the county’s attorney, legislature chairman and employees. Harbin and Kelly Preston (U-Homer) voted in favor of moving the policy to the full legislature.
“This is not the end at all,” Harbin said. “I’m committed, we are committed, to getting this done.”