By Joseph Spector and Jessica Bakeman, Albany Bureau
ALBANY -- Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the Legislature are expected next week to tweak the state's controversial gun control law, particularly to clarify that the seven-bullet limit does not apply to active-duty police officers.
The lack of an exemption for cops has drawn concern from law enforcement, while free-speech advocates have criticized the law's provision allowing pistol-permit holders to opt out of having their information released publicly.
Cuomo's office said there's an prior law on the books that covers police officers.
"No police officer possessing ammunition clips with more than seven bullets is in violation of the law or guilty of any crime, period," Cuomo spokesman Matt Wing said in an email Friday.
Still, police groups said they were concerned about the new law's language and would work with lawmakers to get clarification.
"It is our belief that the failure to include a law enforcement exemption was an unintentional oversight brought on by the urgent need to take action in light of the Sandy Hook tragedy," the New York City Patrolmen's Benevolent Association said in a statement Thursday.
The governor's office on Friday launched a website, www.NYSAFEact.com, that could help answer questions about which guns and magazines are legal, when each provision in the law takes effect and how to register assault weapons that are grandfathered in under the law.
Media and good-government groups want to see changes in the part of the law that would restrict public access to gun-permit information. The Legislature enacted the opt-out clause after the Journal News, a Gannett Co. Inc., publication, last month posted an interactive map of addresses and names of pistol-permit holders.
The provision allows for privacy exemption for specific reasons, such as being an active or retired police officer, having an order of protection, having been a witness in a criminal proceeding or having been a juror or on a grand jury.
It includes broad language for others seeking an exemption, such as if the applicant "has reason to believe his or her life or safety may be endangered by disclosure" or "may be subject to unwarranted harassment."
Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause, said the provision is too broad and would lessen the public's ability to hold government accountable for its permitting process. She said she doesn't oppose some opt-out provisions for police or domestic-violence victims, but the law should be narrower.
"There is a public responsibility in being licensed, and secondly, it's very important that government should be transparent to the public," Lerner said.
Bob Freeman, the executive director of the state Commission on Open Government, said Wednesday he had no issue with the new law.
The Radio-Television Digital News Association said the information should remain public.
"This is clearly a wild overreaction to the decision to publish the names," said Mike Cavender, the group's executive director, in a statement. "Closing off public records is an excessive and inappropriate response, and we respectfully urge Governor Cuomo and New York legislators to restore the public's access to this information."
The public has reacted strongly to the publishing of the names and addresses by the Journal News. County clerks in Westchester and Rockland said they have been inundated with calls from the public wanting to opt out of the public disclosure.
"That article put a certain amount of fear in a lot of people, and now that it's out and it's still up, I wish they would take it down," said Paul Piperato, the Rockland County clerk.
Westchester County Clerk Tim Idoni said he hasn't called for the information to be removed, but described a influx of panicked calls from 400 to 500 residents in recent days.
The law requires State Police to create a form within 30 days that permit-holders can use to opt-out of public disclosure. Then, residents would have 60 days to file the forms with counties.
Idoni said he plans to mail a copy of the form to every permit-holder, rather than post it on the county website, because of the volume of concerned citizens.
"People want to talk about themselves -- how scared they are, why they need to opt out," Idoni said. "I would hope that everybody would have an equal opportunity to be able to do it."
Idoni said there has been record interest recently in obtaining pistol permits. Sixty to 70 applications for permits are coming in daily in Westchester, compared to five, typically, Idoni said.
The Monroe County clerk's office has received 406 applications so far this year, compared with 158 this time last year.
Clerk Cheryl DiNolfo said the office has received about three times as many visitors than normal in recent days, with most inquiring about the opt-out clause or a pistol-permit application.
"We have not really seen during my tenure this many people in our office at any one time on a single issue," she said.