Sheriff supports stricter gun laws, Second Amendment rights

Chautauqua County Sheriff Joe Gerace knows a thing or two regarding gun laws in New York state.

For instance, he’s fully aware laws in place before Tuesday were riddled with loopholes and did little to curb gun violence involving assault weapons.

The sheriff also understands the need to protect the Second Amendment and the right to bear arms, while ensuring those with mental health problems receive proper care.

Gerace expressed his views as state lawmakers passed some of the nation’s strictest gun law measures that will halt the sale of assault weapons, reduce the number of bullets magazines can hold and expand Kendra’s Law regarding mental health outpatient support.

Gerace said he understands the need to enact tougher assault weapon bans, especially in the wake of the mass shooting in Newtown, Conn., that left 26 students and staff dead, and the shooting deaths of two firefighters in West Webster.

“I am obviously a strong supporter of the Constitution and the Second Amendment, and part of that is people should have the right to bear arms,” the sheriff said hours before the state Senate passed the comprehensive legislation. “But I have a serious problem about high-capacity, high-powered assault rifles.

“I have to take care of my people,” Gerace said. “We are outgunned when it comes to these types of situations involving these assault rifles and magazines that carry so many bullets.”

As anticipated, the state Assembly on Tuesday easily passed the sweeping legislation. Assemblyman Andy Goodell, R-Chautauqua County, while on the Assembly floor criticized the hasty legislation – which bypassed the usual three-day aging period.

“There are over a million responsible people who owns guns that are now classified as a rifle,” Goodell said.

Joseph Giglio, R-Gowanda, in a news release, also was critical of the quick legislation. “The (bill) does not do enough to enhance public safety and protect the most vulnerable in our society,” he said.

Goodell and Giglio both voted against the bill in the Democratic-led Assembly.

Gerace, meanwhile, said he has not had a chance to fully review the gun law bill, but knows loopholes must be eliminated that allow the sale of assault weapons.

“We need to fix those loopholes,” he said. “That’s why the current laws don’t work right now.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo in his State of the State Address last week proposed a seven-point gun-control agenda, aimed at further establishing New York as a strict gun law state.

The governor called for the closing of loopholes on sales of assault weapons as well as eliminating sales of ammunition magazines that carry more than 10 bullets. Laws passed by the state Legislature will limit magazines to seven rounds.

“Some weapons are so dangerous and some ammunition devices so lethal that we simply cannot afford to continue selling them in our state,” Cuomo said in his address. “With military-style features that are unneeded and unwanted for hunting and sporting purposes, assault weapons are this kind of weapon.”

The governor’s seven-point plan calls for:

Enacting the toughest assault weapons ban in the nation;

Closing the private sale loophole by requiring federal background checks;

Banning high capacity magazines; enacting tougher penalties for illegal gun use, guns on school grounds and violent gangs;

Keeping guns from people who are mentally ill;

Banning direct Internet sales of ammunition in New York; and

Creating a state criminal background check system on all ammunition purchases.

“Our state has had a ban on assault weapons since 2000, but it is so riddled with loopholes and so difficult to understand that it has become virtually unenforceable,” the governor said.

Gerace, meanwhile, said he would like to see stiffer penalties for those breaking gun laws. “We need those penalties to be tougher,” he said. “I support stronger penalties for those who use guns in an illegal act.”