BUFFALO, NY - One state lawmaker is calling out Erie County Sheriff Tim Howard for his comments on the SAFE Act, after Howard voiced concerns about the state's gun control laws this week. Howard said he has no plans to dedicate Sheriff's Office resources to enforce the new law.
There are about 75,000 pistol permit holders in Erie County. More than any other county in Western New York. Plus, there are thousands of other guns here without permits. So, when the sheriff says he's not going to enforce the SAFE Act - the toughest gun control law in the nation - that's a serious decision and it's started quite the controversy.
"People know where I stand," he said, "they know how I feel, I'm very concerned for public safety. I'm very concerned for police and communities that we serve. This law is wrong. It will not help us, it's a squandered opportunity to make New York safe."
"When he made that statement [earlier this week] he sent a chill throughout the domestic violence community in Erie County," said Democrat Assemblyman Sean Ryan.
There's a showdown unfolding between Howard, a Republican, and Ryan, a Democrat. It's all about the SAFE Act. Even though Sheriff Howard says he won't enforce Gov. Cuomo's signature gun law, sheriff deputies haven't received any word from Sheriff Howard not to follow the law.
The decision to not follow the law could be just as serious as it is political. Sheriff Howard is running for re-election this fall, though he says politics is not involved.
Two democrats are also in the race.
And one of them, Lt. Bert Dunn, who works under Howard tells 2 On Your Side's Jeff Preval that there's been no change in policy within the sheriff's office to not follow the SAFE Act.
And that sheriff deputies are still following the law and that there's no plan to do otherwise.
Ryan is countering and demanding that Howard enforce the SAFE Act, which opponents say violates the constitutional right to bear arms.
"As a top law enforcement official in Erie County, you're job is to enforce the laws, you don't have the liberty to pick and choose," Ryan said. "We elect a sheriff, we don't elect a king. Kings get to make their own laws, sheriffs get to follow laws as written."
Specifically, Ryan raises concerns about a key part of the law, which enhances protections for victims or survivors of domestic violence.
The law says that if a judge feels someone is in danger when an order of protection has been issued then the weapon needs to be turned in. If the weapon is not turned in, law enforcement officials would need to take the gun away.
But Sheriff Howard says he would not do this, or follow any part of the law in Erie County. Although, the county has a Domestic Violence unit and Howard says that his commitment to the squad and the issue of domestic violence remains strong.
He has joined four other county sheriffs in signing his name to a friend-of-the-court brief seeking to overturn the Safe Act.
"If you know this is wrong, you can't enforce it, which is why I signed on, because the law should be as it's stated by anyone that did sign on did recognize it as being unconstitutional," said Howard.
So the entire issue may rest with Sheriff Howard himself, unless he authorizes the sheriff's department not to follow the SAFE Act.
Still, the move by the sheriff presents many questions. 2 On Your Side has asked the Sheriff if there are any other laws he is not going to enforce.
Could the sheriff face any penalties for refusing to enforce the law? The state Constitution does say a governor can remove any elected clerk, district attorney and sheriff for misconduct. Charges need to be given to the accused and they have to be given their day in court.
Howard says if that ever happened, he would, "fight to the end."