County sheriffs in upstate communities are voicing concerns about the state's 2-week-old ammunition background check system, saying they disagree with state political leaders that it will reduce gun violence in the state.
More members of law enforcement Thursday spoke out about the New York State Police background check system as issues persist and U.S. Supreme Court justices will consider taking up a challenge to the state's Concealed Carry Improvement Act and background checks on ammo purchases.
Albany County Sheriff Craig Apple, a Democrat, says the required background checks to purchase weapons or ammunition are more of a nuisance than a change that will keep New Yorkers safe.
"This isn't going to keep New Yorkers safe," said Apple, who is also the president of the state Sheriff's Association. "And again, I think this is more of a reactionary thing."
Apple was called to help when a retired high-ranking state policeman was denied buying ammo in Albany County under the new system after passing a state background check to purchase a firearm earlier this summer.
Apple says the new law is a burden on the state, as people who commit gun crimes don't buy their guns or firing rounds legally and will go across state lines.
"They believe it'll make people safe. I just, you know, I don't really know how," the sheriff added. "But we'll see what happens."
More than 14,000 transactions for people to buy firearms and ammunition have been approved since the new law took effect Sept. 13, including more than 6,100 transactions approved for firearm purchases and 8,300 approved transactions for ammunition. State police refuse to release the number of applications that have been denied.
"We will not be sharing statistics at this time," state police spokeswoman Deanna Cohen said in a statement.
The department will provide statistical system data in an annual report, per the law.
State police also will not discuss the grounds, nor specific reasons they use to deny an attempted firearm or ammunition purchase, or respond to questions about why retired law enforcement have been rejected. Police provide the applicant a reason for denial upon appeal.
"We will not be discussing individual applications as any background check conducted by NYS National Instant Criminal Background Check System is NOT considered a public record, and shall NOT be disclosed to any person not authorized by law," Cohen said. "The New York State Police will continue to update the NYS NICS system in order to provide an accurate and timely response. Again, while some transactions are processed immediately, others require more research."
Fulton County Sheriff Richard Giardino says he continues to hear about delays in certain parts of the state, especially for people with minor crimes on their record from decades ago, or dismissed charges that trip the system.
"You know, when somebody was 17 years old, they stole a pack of cigarettes from a grocery store, they did community service and it was supposed to be dismissed," Giardino recounted Thursday. "And now all of a sudden this popped up."
Earlier this week, Gov. Kathy Hochul said she's heard the complaints about the system, but argues it will keep weapons out of the wrong hands and reduce gun violence.
"The whole premise behind this is to protect New Yorkers and for us to understand who has what weapons and what ammunition because we've seen too much in our state," she said in Albany on Tuesday.
Lawmakers included $20 million in the 2023-24 budget for State Police to implement the new system, including the hiring of 100 additional staff. State Police also refuse to say how many additional staff have been hired to work out system glitches, or process applications and appeals.
The issues are stoking a national Second Amendment debate after U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas this week moved for an emergency conference Oct. 6 for the full court to consider a challenge to the state's Concealed Carry Improvement Act and background checks on ammo purchases.
Multiple challenges against the state's gun laws remain pending in federal court.
Lawmakers anticipated the legal challenges when they passed the strengthened gun laws, which Hochul says she's confident will be upheld.
"I wouldn't expect the governor to say anything different," said Rob Rosborough, a litigation attorney with Whiteman Osterman & Hanna LLP. "She's more of a politician than a legal scholar."
Rosborough said Thursday the cases will push the national debate changing the framework of Second Amendment laws to a head over time.
New York's strengthened laws, passed in direct response to the Supreme Court's overturning the state's century-old concealed carry laws last year, limited where guns can be taken in public in parts of New York and provides new requirements to obtain a concealed carry license.
Rosborough says the state is working to prove such regulations have been permitted throughout history, but with the changed makeup of the court, it could be in peril.
"It's certainly possible that the Supreme Court could decide, 'Let's put a halt to this, let's send it back to the FBI to do the background checks like the federal system has operated for a really long time.' And then let the merits of the case play out before we decide who is going to be operating this or whether New York is going to be able to take this over legally.
"What the Supreme Court didn't say is, what's permitted?" he added. "What is the government allowed to regulate in and around gun rights?"