Two St. Lawrence County legislators seeking ‘test case’ to allow more concealed handguns
Sunday, October 11, 2015 - 8:41 am

By CRAIG FREILICH

Two St. Lawrence County legislators are taking steps they hope will allow St. Lawrence County residents to carry concealed handguns in public, and have been conferring with the National Rifle Association to test a new county law in court.

“We’re taking a lot of different approaches to see what the best course is, what would be the right direction to take,” said Joel LaPierre, a Republican from Fowler who represents the 4th District, and one of two sponsors of a local law that is aimed at easing restrictions placed on handgun permits by St. Lawrence County Court Judge Jerome Richards.

To take the issue to court, they need to find someone who applied for a permit after the law took effect and who was denied an unrestricted permit by Judge Richards.

LaPierre and Republican Rick Perkins of Parishville, the other sponsor of the law, have been speaking with experts at the National Rifle Association and New York State Rifle and Pistol Association.

They want to find a way to put teeth into the law that aims to make it easier for handgun owners to carry pistols with them when they want to and not be restricted to taking pistols with them just for hunting or target practice. The Board of Legislators approved the measure in June in a 14-1 vote.

But passage of the local law doesn’t make carrying a handgun easier all by itself, so a “test case” could be the way to clarify the situation.

“I would like to see somebody do that,” said Perkins. He represents the huge 7th District, which includes the towns of Parishville, Hopkinton, Pierrepont, Colton, Clare and Piercefield.

“I wish somebody would challenge him,” Perkins said, referring to Richards.

Law Aimed At Richards

For years, Richards has been the subject of criticism for rarely granting unrestricted pistol permits, even before the passage of the New York Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act of 2013 -- the SAFE Act. The local law approved in June was aimed squarely at Judge Richards.

In New York State, unrestricted handgun permits allow people to carry pistols with them, but they must be out of sight, or “concealed,” according to the New York State Rifle and Pistol Association. It is illegal for someone to carry a pistol in a holster on the hip, for example, if it can be readily seen, unless the gun owner is hunting or at a shooting range.

A pistol permit can have restrictions that allow a pistol owner to have a handgun, but not to carry it around under ordinary circumstances. County court judges sign off on pistol permit applications in their jurisdictions, and have a fair amount of latitude in placing restrictions on permit holders.

Contrary to what many other judges in the state are said to allow, Judge Richards generally does not approve of pistol owners carrying their handguns around unless they are going to or from hunting or target shooting, and that’s it, according to applicants.

Only under the most extreme self-defense circumstances is it said that Richards will sign off on an “unrestricted” permit allowing a person to carry a handgun just about anywhere.

Reacting to growing criticism of Richards’ reported policy, the legislators sought to define the term “proper cause” as it applies to unrestricted handgun permit rules. The law says “proper cause” should mean “any legitimate reason, a circumstance or combinations of circumstances justifying the granting of a privilege.” The idea is to limit Judge Richards’ discretion.

“The judge kind of created the issue,” Perkins said. “To me it’s discrimination. I’m kind of disappointed in him. He’s supposed to be a judge. His personal views are not supposed to be a part of his decision-making. It’s blatant. If people go through background checks saying there’s no reason to deny them their rights and they’re responsible citizens, why would you put restrictions on them?

“What we need is better enforcement on people who shouldn’t have guns,” Perkins said. “It’s the dishonest people who deserve restrictions. I wish somebody would challenge him.”

But making a case to challenge a decision by the judge will not be a quick process.

“I know of some people who have turned in their applications for a pistol permit, but it takes eight or nine months once it’s turned in,” said LaPierre, whose district covers the towns of Hammond, Macomb, Rossie, Fowler, Edwards and Pitcairn.

Long Process Expected

“We knew this would be a long process to begin with. I estimate it will be two to three years to get a good decision in court,” he said of the hoped-for legal challenge.

“We’ve been conferring with the NRA and the NYSRPA. They’ve got their ear to the ground in Albany.

“Some other counties have asked to see the law we passed,” LaPierre said. “We’re starting to get some movement.

“We think it should be handled by legislation in Albany. It needs to be statewide,” he said. “Until that happens, in different counties there will be different judges’ decisions.”