County split on joining NYSRPA gun lawsuit heading to Supreme Court
Thursday, March 28, 2019 - 5:25 pm

By JIMMY LAWTON
North Country This Week

CANTON -- A proposal to add their opinion to a Second Amendment lawsuit heading to the United States Supreme Court drew hot debate in a recent county legislators' meeting and is expected to come up again Monday.

New York State Rifle & Pistol Association Inc. v. City of New York, New York, is set to go before the Supreme Court this year.

NYSRPA has filed a lawsuit against the city claiming restrictions placed on pistol licenses in New York City violate the Constitution.

Excluding professions where guns are mandatory, gun owners in New York City may only possess a gun within their home, where it must be kept unloaded and in a locked container.

New York City gun owners are restricted from transporting their weapons, except directly to and from NYC shooting ranges, and are also restricted from taking their weapons outside city limits.

NYSRPA argues this violates Second Amendment rights, and the Supreme Court is set to hear the case.

Meanwhile, in St. Lawrence County, Republican legislators and some Democratic legislators have criticized restrictions placed on licenses by St. Lawrence County Judge Jerry Richards.

At a special meeting last week, the legislature directed St. Lawrence County Attorney Stephen Button to research and prepare an amicus brief to join the lawsuit.

“The primary issue before the Court is whether restrictions placed on pistol licenses in New York City violate the Constitution. As applied to St. Lawrence County, an amicus brief could demonstrate to the Supreme Court that restrictions on pistol licenses are applied in locations within New York State but outside of New York City, highlighting a potential systemic problem rather than an isolated one,” he said.

While the majority of the legislature agreed with the merits of adding an amicus brief to the lawsuit and that it was in the interest of St. Lawrence County, some legislators had concerns.

Among those opposed to the measure was Legislator David Haggard, former assistant district attorney, who spoke vehemently against the bill in a manner that raised concern from at least one person who attended the meeting.

Haggard spoke passionately against the resolution, which he referred to as “really, really bad.”

He questioned the cost associated with the bill and the potential impact it might have, and was strongly opposed to supporting a lawsuit involving NYSRPA, which he referred to as “radical” organization.

“I think it’s important to know who we are supporting and getting in bed with,” he said.

Haggard questioned the county attorney about Tom King, NYSRPA’s CEO. Haggard said that in the past King has stated he would oppose any restrictions on the Second Amendment.

Haggard also said that although the Constitution says Second Amendment rights shall not be infringed, it does not say the shall not be regulated.

Haggard pressed the county attorney on several points regarding the amicus brief in manner more akin to a courtroom than a county meeting, according to Legislator Joe Lightfoot, who urged Haggard to wrap up his comments.

Darrin Freeman, a St. Lawrence County resident who attended the meeting, reached out to North Country This Week following the meeting. He said he respects the opinions of legislators who spoke for and against the resolution, which he supports, but said Haggard’s manner at the meeting was aggressive and unprofessional.

“He showed no respect for anyone in the room,” he said. “It was very unsettling and very unprofessional for a county legislator,” he said.

Freeman said several other legislators spoke against the resolution, but did so in a respectful manner.

Among them was Legislator Tony Arquette, who raised concerns about the time and money it would cost to prepare the brief, which he says would focus on NYC.

“When we are driving over pot holes in St. Lawrence County like we are, we should be cautious of every dollar spent,” he said. “I’m not sure really what potential outcome we will have on behalf of our citizens.”

He also suggested that if the county attorney had time for the brief, perhaps his staff could be down-sized.

Legislator Nicole Terminelli shared concerns about funding as did Legislator John Burke.

Legislator Burke who also opposed the measure questioned whether it was a good idea to upset Democratic lawmakers in control of the state Legislature over an issue that relates to NYC. “My fear is we are jumping on the bandwagon,” Burke said.

Among those speaking in favor of the resolution were Legislator David Forsythe who said he believed the issue had ramifications for the St. Lawrence County as did Kevin Acres who said he was sick of “bending over” for New York City.

Legislator James Reagen said that by pursuing the lawsuit the county is seeking to have a broader interpretation of the rules applied to pistol permits, similar to how they were granted by past judges prior to Richards.

In an interview Wednesday Haggard said he did not intend to offend anyone. He said he is a strong supporter of the Second Amendment, but does not believe the right is unlimited.

“I am strong believer in the Second Amendment. In fact I authored a resolution calling on our state legislators to introduce legislation to repeal the seven-load magazine section from the Safe Act, which the second circuit court of appeals has declared unconstitutional,” he said.

But Haggard does believe there are limits to the freedom granted by the Constitution.

“I believe strongly in the legitimate gun ownership. What I don’t believe is certain individuals should have the right to have weapons. I don’t believe convicted felons or people with mental disabilities should be allowed to have weapon as stated by Scalia in Heller,” he said, referring to a 2008 Supreme Court decision. “I don’t believe people convicted of misdemeanor or felony offenses of domestic violence should be allowed to possess weapons either as held by Hayes.”

Haggard said his beliefs are in direct opposition with Tom King, who has been quoted as saying he believes the Second Amendment provides citizens with the right to keep and bear the firearm of his or her choice wherever and whenever he or she chooses.

At a county committee meeting last week, Haggard said he and fellow councilor John Burke also raised a legal concern regarding the county’s authority to file the amicus brief.

“The question is whether we have the authority to spend money to support a private enterprise in an action against another municipality in New York. In my opinion that is not authorized either by the state constitution or the statutes of New York State,” he said.

The county is expected to take action on a resolution that would allow the county attorney to move forward with the amicus brief April 1.