State police in Erie County, New York have admitted a huge mistake in confiscating a man’s guns under newly passed gun control laws, saying they identified the wrong person. Erie County Clerk Chris Jacobs has said that police called him to clarify that they had wrongly enforced a pistol permit suspension on a local gun owner under the NY SAFE Act.
The confiscation order came following a warning suggesting the man was using anti-anxiety medication prescribed by his doctor Under provisions in the new legislation, anyone identified as suffering from a mental health condition can have their firearms seized by police.
Jacobs said that during the phone call he was told troopers had forwarded incorrect information, and that police had made an error. Jacobs also indicated that this case highlighted serious flaws in the new legislation.
“I think that first and foremost, it stems from a flawed law that was passed so quickly without forethought on how something would be implemented.” Jacobs told WGRZ News. “Certainly, I am disappointed on the fact that we were given information from State Police that this was an individual that we needed to act immediately on.”
“Previously we received correspondence from the State Police that a pistol permit holder in our County had a mental health condition that made them a potential harm to themselves or others, a provision in the NY SAFE Act that requires suspension of their pistol permit license,” said Jacobs.
Jacobs said that he had referred the item and all supporting documentation to the State Supreme Court Judge in charge of issuing pistol permits. After reviewing the information from State Police, the judge issued a suspension of the permit pending a hearing.
“When the State Police called to tell us they made a mistake and had the wrong person…it became clear that the State did not do their job here, and now we all look foolish.”
“Until the mental health provisions are fixed, these mistakes will continue to happen,” says Jacobs.
The gun owner in this case, David Lewis, a 35-year-old college librarian who owns seven pistols and is a regular target shooter, is said to be taking legal action. His attorneys have noted that protections should have been in force under The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act Privacy Rule, which establishes national standards to protect individuals’ medical records and other personal health information, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.
“We were flummoxed by this whole matter,” Jim Tresmond of the Tresmond Law Firm in Hamburg, New York said. “The HIPPA act is supposed to prevent this kind of thing from happening. It’s a gross invasion of our privacy rights.”
Mr Lewis still has not had his guns returned and will be required to attend a hearing in front of a judge in order to get them back, according to his attorney, who stated “It’s negligence on either the State Police or Erie County Clerk’s Office. Someone was negligent if my client has been put through this ringer.”
New York State Police have refused to answer questions from local reporters or to conduct an interview.
Section 9.46 of the NY SAFE Act of 2013 authorizes therapists, doctors, nurses and social workers to report patients they determine may engage in conduct that may result in harm to self or others. If a determination is made that the person in question poses a threat, the provision permits the government to confiscate firearms. The provision is a direct violation of the Fourth Amendment and the legal standard of probable cause.
Legal experts believe many mental health providers will likely ignore the provision. NY SAFE was passed by the New York State Legislature on January 15, 2013, and was signed into law by Governor Andrew Cuomo the same day.