Erie County Sheriff Timothy Howard
BUFFALO, NY - Since the moment Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the NY Safe Act into law in January, Erie County Sheriff Timothy Howard has made no secret of his opposition to it.
Now Howard has joined four other County Sheriffs in signing his name to a friend of the court brief, seeking to intervene on behalf of the New York State Rifle and Pistol Association, in its federal lawsuit seeking to strike the Safe Act down.
"When I was invited to this I didn't wait for a second to sign on," Howard told WGRZ-TV.
If granted friend of the court status, it would allow the Sheriffs to become a party to the suit, in the manner of providing information and testimony on behalf of the plaintiffs seeking an injunction against the implementation of aspects the Safe Act, toward their eventual goal to have them declared unconstitutional.
In their application, Howard and his fellow elected law enforcers call the Safe Act a violation of the second amendment, asserting that its provisions "decrease the ability of law abiding citizens to protect themselves in their own home" and are overly vague to the point of making them unenforceable.
Not that Howard planned to enforce them anyway:
"If you know this is wrong, and if you know it violates the constitution, then if you have any character at all you can't enforce it, Howard said.
Critics of his stance, however, might say Howard's job is to enforce the law, not to pick and choose which parts of it are palatable to him.
"To anyone who would say that, I say that their position means that we, the people, don't matter anymore and that just because we've elected someone to government, that they can do whatever they want."
Two On Your Side then asked Howard what's to stop him from deciding that if (for example) he didn't support DWI laws, might he not seek to enforce those either?
"That's a fair question," Howard replied. "But no one has a constitutional right to drive," before asserting that, as Sheriff, it is up to him as to decide where to direct the department's resources. "There's almost universal support for anti-DWI laws...by spending our time on DWI enforcement, we can make a difference. Spending time on that law (NY Safe) will not make the public one bit safer."
The mantle of enforcement for the Safe Act has seemingly fallen mostly on the New York State Police.
In an extensive interview with Channel 2 News one month ago, NY State Police Superintendent Joseph D'Amico expressed his belief that it is the responsibility of police to enforce laws passed by the state; unless and until the courts decide, they are unconstitutional.
"I don't think it's the role of any police officer or any police agency to interpert the laws as it relates to the constitution," D'Amico said.
"The constitution comes first," said Howard in explaining his belief aspects of the SAFE Act should stand the test of judicial scrutiny, before they are enforced.
Their comments underscore an apparently divergent viewpoint between the two law enforcement leaders, one appointed by the Governor, the other elected by the people.
Perhaps the only sanction Howard could face by choosing to not aggressively enforce NY Safe might be from the people who elect him.
And to those who might suggest his vocal opposition is politically motivated ( in year in which he seeks re-election in a county in which many are opposed to the Safe Act) Howard said, "people will say whatever they will...but the fact is I was one of the first to stand up in opposition to this when it was rammed through the state legislature without so much as a debate."
Click on the video player to watch our story from Two On Your Side Reporter Dave McKinley and Photojournalist Terry Belke. Follow Dave on Twitter: @DaveMcKinley2