By Joseph Spector, Gannett Albany
State Police have issued a field guide for its troopers and other law enforcement on how to handle New York's controversial gun-control law.
WEB EXTRA: Click here to read the field guide (http://bit.ly/1b4hTBW)
The 20-page guide, quietly issued last month and obtained by Gannett's Albany Bureau, notes that police officers have been concerned about enforcing the SAFE Act, which was championed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and passed by the Legislature last January.
"As with many large legislative initiatives, the SAFE Act has raised questions from members of the field relating to the scope of the Act and its effect on those police officers who will have the responsibility to enforce the various provisions," the guide says. "The purpose of this guide is to provide guidance to police officers regarding the enforcement of the Safe Act's provisions."
Police officers and the state Sheriff's Association have questioned the constitutionality of the SAFE Act, which requires police to confiscate guns from people who do not properly register them. The Sheriff's Association has joined a lawsuit seeking to overturn the law, and a number of large rallies have been held at the Capitol seeking to have the law repealed.
The law lowers the limit of bullets allowed in a magazine from 10 to seven, requires new registrations for weapons and expands the ban on assault weapons. Gun owners could face criminal charges if they don't follow the law.
The guide notes that the seven-bullet limit should only be inspected by police if there is an indication of a criminal offense.
"Absent some indication of criminal activity, there is no right to inspect the contents of a magazine to ensure that it meets the requirements under the Safe Act," the guide states. "If an officer has probable cause to believe that a particular magazine is unlawful, he or she may seize and inspect it."
Gov. Andrew Cuomo has urged police to follow the law and to not arbitrarily enforce it, saying last month, "It's not really up to law enforcement to pick and choose what laws they like and what laws they don't like."
Assemblyman Bill Nojay, R-Pittsford, Monroe County, questioned whether police will actively charge anyone under the SAFE Act. He said he's heard from officers who won't do so.
"These guys want nothing to do with the SAFE Act, and they are not going to enforce the SAFE Act, except if they have a bad guy and they are putting him under arrest and there are other charges," Nojay said.
Darcy Wells, a spokesman from State Police, said field guides are often issued to assist police with new laws.
"We issue field guides on a routine basis, and in this case, because this is a new law, we had our counsel's office put together a guide not only for our members but others in law enforcement," Wells said in an email.
2 On Your Side also spoke with two people on Monday who represent opposite sides of the SAFE Act issue. Pastor James Giles, the coordinator of an anti-violence group named Buffalo Peacemakers, stood firm in his praise of the SAFE Act as a way for the city to cut help down on violence. On the opposite side of the spectrum, Gerry Cumbo of the Shooters Committee on Public Education expressed his disdain for any enforcement of the SAFE Act, calling it a "bad law." Cumbo is the 1st Vice President of S.C.O.P.E, and he said Monday that the group has joined in on a lawsuit against the SAFE ACT.
Giles, on his support for the SAFE Act: "If we don't do anything, the problem is just going to escalate. You're rallying around conversation, not even necessarily that the SAFE Act will solve all of the problems we're having on the streets, but what it will do is start a conversation and make us more consciencious."
Cumbo, on the issuing of a field guide to enforce the law: "It's disturbing and chilling that they feel the need to give further direction to make sure these ill-advised laws are going to be enforced."