Pomfret man’s charge not SAFE Act-related

A Pomfret man who reportedly possessed an illegal semi-automatic assault rifle faces charges not directly related to the New York Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act of 2013.

Chautauqua County Sheriff Joseph Gerace informed the OBSERVER that 36-year-old Dennis A. Wallace of Van Buren Road, charged Sunday night with second-degree criminal possession of a weapon (a class C violent felony), would have been arrested even if the SAFE Act did not exist.

“That charge was based on pre-existing law,” Gerace said. “It was based on the penal law prior to the modifications by the SAFE Act. This is not a SAFE Act arrest.”

County District Attorney David Foley echoed Gerace’s sentiments, adding there is no such charge for violating the SAFE Act in and of itself.

“The SAFE Act amended the definition of an assault weapon by now saying that all you need is one of a number of (military) attachments to make it assault-style, a pistol grip for example,” he explained. “Prior to that, I think you needed two attachments (for a gun to be illegal), so you needed more things on the weapon.

“In this case, it would have been an assault weapon previous to the SAFE Act, because the gun apparently has several of the things that are required to make it an assault rifle. This weapon had at least two (attachments), if not three, from what I understand.”

Court papers apparently described the gun as having a telescoping stock, a pistol grip and a detachable magazine. The detachable magazine is not considered a military-style attachment under the SAFE Act, but it is a necessary feature for a rifle to be considered assault-style and illegal under the law.

A news release stated Wallace was handed the weapon possession charge after sheriff’s deputies and Fredonia police officers conducted a joint investigation into the banned assault rifle allegedly owned by Wallace.

Foley said Wallace faces three-and-a-half to 15 years behind bars if convicted.

The alleged offender was already in custody at the time of the investigation for unrelated charges of second-degree aggravated harassment, switched plates and suspended registration, local charges answerable in Fredonia Village Court.

The local charges stem from a reported incident with Wallace’s wife; an order of protection was filed in village court, according to Buffalo media outlets. The order of protection most likely triggered the investigation into the illegal assault rifle.

A preliminary hearing is set for Friday at 2 p.m. in Pomfret Town Court for the weapon possession charge. Justice David Prince will preside over that hearing.

Wallace appeared Tuesday in town court for arraignment and was remanded to the county jail. Bail was set at $50,000 cash or $100,000 property bond.

The controversial NY SAFE Act was in response to the December 2012 massacre of 26 students and teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. The law imposed a variety of restrictions on assault-style weapons, among other provisions.

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