By LIZ SKOCZYLAS
OBSERVER Mayville Bureau
It is too early to tell the kind of impact the NY SAFE Act will have on the Chautauqua County budget.
However, according to Sheriff Joseph Gerace, extra help has already been assigned to the pistol permit office as a flood of paperwork has taken over since the law was enacted. Aside from the pistol permit office's full-time employee and a student intern, a part-time employee has been hired. Additionally, officers who have been placed on light duty have been pitching in to tackle the mounds of paperwork.
"What directly impacts us is the mass amount of the exclusion forms that we are receiving. That was completely unnecessary if the law had been written more intelligently," Gerace said. "Instead, we've created this paperwork nightmare for people and for us, for our participant holders and for the sheriff's office, because they are filing exemption forms that we have to handle and eventually file or make part of a database. That just wasn't necessary."
County Executive Greg Edwards has also noticed an increase in the amount of people visiting the Gerace Office Building in Mayville.
"From being on the same floor here in the Gerace Office Building, the pistol permit clerk's office is on the same floor as my office," Edwards said. "For about the last six months, maybe longer now, the volume of people who have been coming in and working with and asking for services from the pistol permit clerk's office has been tremendous. It has been a significant increase. In fact, one day, there were over 25 people in line, from their office, right down the hallway toward mine."
The highly controversial NY SAFE Act was signed into law by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in January, following the Dec. 14 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
"The SAFE Act stops criminals and the dangerously mentally ill from buying a gun by requiring universal background checks on gun purchases, increases penalties for people who use illegal guns, mandates life in prison without parole for anyone who murders a first responder, and imposes the toughest assault weapons ban in the country," Cuomo said. "For hunters, sportsmen, and law abiding gun owners, this new law preserves and protects your right to buy, sell, keep or use your guns."
So far, though, the SAFE Act has led to a paperwork pileup. In addition to Chautauqua County becoming buried in a paperwork nightmare, other media reports say that Erie, Niagara and Monroe counties are being blasted with requests as well.
"We've been inundated with customers at the pistol permit office at times," Gerace said. "It's been a challenge. I obviously want to provide the best service we can to the pistol permit holders. So, it's frustrating."
Edwards can see the frustration as well. He has recognized some of the challenges the Sheriff's Office already has without the costs of the SAFE Act.
"The sheriff already has challenges, due to the increase in the number of local people in the county jail, which has limited the number of spaces he has available to house federal inmates. As a result, he is already having difficulty meeting his revenue projections," Edwards said. "If you had more expense on the sheriff's budget, it's going to make it harder and harder for him to deliver the services he wants to."
For now, though, Gerace said he will be keeping a close eye on his budget, especially when it comes to the pistol permit office. Already, the office has had to incur the cost of adding the part-time employee.
"There will be future issues as this new state database takes effect. Then, I see the potential for a big jump in the number of background investigations that will be done," Gerace said. "We're seeing such a surge that it is an inconvenience to people, it's slowing down the process. People have been very patient, very courteous and very understanding to date."
For county residents needing the services of the pistol permit office, Gerace recommends making an appointment in order to avoid an excessive wait. However, he said the pistol permit office has been instructed to not turn away anyone requesting services.