BUFFALO, NY - In what appears to be a developing war of words, New York State Police have fired the latest volley, now inferring that a mix up that resulted in an Amherst man's guns mistakenly being taken away is the fault of the Erie County Clerk's office.
David Lewis is a 35-year-old college librarian, whose attorney says has an anxiety issue, which prompted a doctor to prescribe him medication.
He got a letter from the Erie County Clerk's office recently, advising him his pistol permit was being revoked under the NY SAFE Act, and ordering him to surrender all weapons.
It's Your Fault. No,...It's Your Fault!
Erie County Clerk Christopher Jacobs said his office was commanded to take action by the state, but NY State Police now claim now the clerk's office acted hastily, issuing the following press release Thursday afternoon:
The SAFE Act requires mental health professionals to file notification when a medical professional determines that an individual he or she is treating is at risk to themselves or others. Medical prescription records are strictly private and not shared with the state, and no firearm license would ever be revoked for an anti-anxiety prescription.
The notification forwarded to the Erie County Clerk's Office required additional follow-up before a positive identification of a person at risk to themselves or others became final. The State Police was very clear in its letter to the Clerk's Office regarding the need for due diligence and the need for a positive identification by the County before they removed any weapon.
The final determination on whether to revoke or suspend a pistol permit license rests solely with the County and the licensing officials. The State Police has no authority to suspend or revoke a pistol permit in these circumstances.
The latest remarks by state police could indicate that there was a David Lewis whose mental status was of concern, but that action was taken before it was determined whether David Lewis of Amherst (the subject of the mistaken permit revocation) was indeed that person. However, they have not made that clear in any of the press statements they have issued on the topic, and have thus far not responded to numerous requests for interviews to seek such clarification.
Meanwhile, another County Clerk is scratching her head and raising red flags over what she refers to as a "concerning development", which seems in line with the above scenario, and questions the role -if any-clerks are expected to take to avoid similar mix-ups in the future.
SAFE Act: Reporting Requirements
The NY SAFE now requires mental health professionals to report any individual "likely to engage in conduct that will cause serious harm to themselves or others" by filing what is called a 9.46 report their county's mental health office.
That office, if it was concerned enough, would alert the State Division of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS), which checks if the person in question has a pistol permit.
DCJS would then direct the County Clerk to suspend that person's permit, and send the person a letter directing them to surrender all of their firearms to their local police.
Whose Job Is It Anyway?
In an e-mail obtained by WGRZ-TV, Monroe County Clerk Cheryl Dinolfo wrote to other clerks statewide, about an incident involving her office.
In it, she writes that her office was contacted by State Police about an individual identified in a 9.46 report who potentially should have their permit revoked, but who (perhaps like David Lewis) shared the same name as several other permit holders.
"We were told that the State Police identified multiple permit holders with the same name who reside in different counties," Dinolfo wrote.
"Thereafter we received a fax transmission....(asking us) to perform 'due diligence' to determine if the firearm licensee or applicant is in fact the subject of the 9.46 report. We called the State Police and inquired if the person whose name was set forth in the accompanying document was, in fact, the subject of a 9.46 report. We were told that the State Police did not know and that we or the licensing officer would need to determine this."
When Dinolfo's office inquired how it was supposed to do that (since it would not be privy to such information) Dinolfo claims the state police suggested to them that her office could just "call the individual and ask if they were indeed the subject of a 9.46 report."
"You could imagine my astonishment that this is how the subject of a 9.46 report is to be confirmed," Dinolfo wrote.
We're Not The Cops!
"It's not our role to ask that," said Jacobs. "That's supposed to be done upstream by State Police...so now they're trying to remove themselves from it and say we're supposed to do that."
Jacobs believes, as he stated before, just another example of a "flawed" law, passed hastily, without much thought or direction.
"I have tried to be very kind to State Police in their lack of knowledge because I know they too were caught off guard by this legislation, but now they're trying to pawn a clear responsibility off on us and I'm just not gonna sit back on that one," he said.
Click on the video player to watch our story from 2 On Your Side Reporter Dave McKinley and Photojournalist Norm Fisher. Follow Dave on Twitter: @DaveMckinley2