Deadline To "Opt Out" Pistol Permit Information Passes

11:58 PM, May 15, 2013   |    comments
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By Haley Viccaro

Albany Bureau

ALBANY, N.Y. -- New York's pistol permit holders faced a Wednesday deadline to submit opt-out forms that would keep their records confidential. Some county clerks said they would not have all of the forms processed by the deadline.

Individuals could submit an opt-out form after the May 15 deadline but their records would not be sealed from Freedom of Information requests until a county judge approves the forms.

WEB EXTRA: More information, including a link to download the form, available here from the Erie County Clerk's Office.

Some county clerks' offices have not reviewed all of the opt-out forms that were received before the deadline. They said they would not release the information of permit holders until all of the forms are processed.

"At this point I cannot release any names because, what if that person's name is in the stack of opt-out forms that we haven't gotten to?" Larkin said. "Since the first month, we have had a stack that we have not had time to get to."

The Broome County Sheriff's Department said they haven't sent any of the pistol permit opt-out forms to the county judge for review. Sheriff David Harder said their office plans to deny any records requests they receive.

"We have thousands of people who have put in requests and not enough people to do the work," Harder said. "The judge is waiting for an opinion from the higher court to determine if they need to review every form."

The option to keep pistol-permit records private is a provision of the state's Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act, which also includes the expansion of an assault-weapons ban, limits the number of bullets in a magazine to seven and requires registration of guns every five years.

There have been court proceedings challenging the law since Gov. Andrew Cuomo passed it on Jan. 15. The state Pistol and Rifle Association has an ongoing lawsuit because they believe the gun law contradicts individuals' Second Amendment rights.

"I think that it was ill-conceived legislation from the start, and there are a number of options that are available, from amending the law to court challenges," said Tom King, president of the association. "I am not advocating one way or another, but I think it is an invasion of our constitutional rights."

King said a better option would have been to automatically keep permit records private and have people opt-in if they wanted their information available to the public. Some county clerks agree with King's alternative.

"I don't know why they didn't just seal them all," Larkin said. "Records shouldn't be sealed on the state level and opened on the local level."

Judges have approved nearly all of the opt-out forms across the state, county clerks said. Larkin said she believes none have been denied because the law is so vague that anyone could request to opt-out.

Westchester County Clerk Tim Idoni said none of the nearly 10,000 forms his office received back from the judge were denied. He said there are more than 6,000 forms that have not yet been reviewed.

Idoni said his office has a list of every individual who submitted an opt-out form, and he wouldn't comply with records requests for those individuals until he receives the forms back from the judge.

"I am waiting for an opinion from the office of open government, so we aren't tripping over something we don't know about," Idoni said. "If we don't hear back within 48 hours, we will follow the law and have a list of names that would be confidential based on opt-out forms and another list that would allow FOIL requests."

The Putnam County Clerk's Office received a majority of forms back from the judge and none were denied. Deputy Clerk Mike Bartolotti said they don't plan to comply with records requests until all of the forms are back in their office.

"Because things are still being processed, we do not have the complete record and do not want to disclose anything until the process is finished," Bartolotti said.

County clerks throughout the state said they have been overwhelmed by the thousands of opt-out forms. They stressed that they have been reviewing the forms without increased staff or compensation from the state.

"They gave us no additional money and no additional personnel to help with these forms," Harder said. "Our lines got so long, we started serving coffee and tea during the day. People had lots of questions about the new gun law and what you can and cannot do."

Idoni said he plans to leave the negotiations about reimbursement between the state Association of County Clerks and the governor's office. He said if they allow for reimbursements, he would put in for the estimated $5,000 his office paid to mail the opt-out forms to Westchester residents.

Pistol permit records were blocked from Freedom of Information requests following the release of an interactive map displaying the names and addresses of permit holders in Westchester and Rockland counties by The (Westchester County) Journal News, a Gannett publication.

The gun-control law allows certain individuals the option to keep their records private including active or retired law enforcement officers, witnesses or jurors in criminal proceedings and individuals holding orders of protection. Individuals who believe they could be subject to harassment if their permit records are disclosed also could request to keep their information private.

To submit a pistol permit opt-out form, individuals can download them from their local county clerk's website and submit them by mail or in person at the clerk's office or sheriff's department.

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