Editorial: What's Cuomo going to do about sheriffs' defiance?
It now appears that candidate Jeff Gildersleeve will lose to Mike Zurlo in the Republican primary for Saratoga County sheriff. This would ensure that Saratoga won’t have the dubious distinction of being among the counties with a sheriff who refuses to enforce the state’s SAFE Act gun law. Not that it wasn’t close. Gildersleeve overcame a big disadvantage in taking on the party’s endorsed candidate, and got the vote down to absentee ballots (which aren’t expected to help him enough) after taking that position. That popular but deeply irresponsible position.
We know that people have strong feelings about this law, which was introduced by Gov. Cuomo and passed by the Legislature in January after the Newtown, Ct, massacre. Although we supported it at the time (and still do), we also acknowledged that those who complained it was technically flawed and hastily passed without debate had valid criticisms.
But that doesn’t make the SAFE Act, which tightens gun registration, permitting and background checks, limits the number of bullets in a magazine, and bans the sale or transfer of assault weapons, invalid or illegitimate. Until such time as the Legislature amends or rescinds it, or a court strikes it down, it remains the law — to be enforced by those whose job is to faithfully execute the laws and who have taken an oath to do so. A sheriff can’t pick and choose which ones to uphold based on personal or political beliefs.
But half a dozen, including Fulton County Sheriff Thomas Lorey, now do. They say the SAFE Act is unconstitutional; but that is for judges to decide. They say they’re engaging in civil disobedience; but civil disobedience is a means for citizens to protest against the government — and these guys are acting in their capacity as law enforcement officers representing the government, not citizens. It’s more like Southern states trying to nullify federal laws they didn’t like in the run-up to the Civil War. (The theory of nullification has been rejected repeatedly by the courts, including the Supreme Court.) The sheriffs’ defiance and disrespect for law will only lead to more of the same from the citizenry.
The New York State Sheriff’s Association hasn’t helped by refusing to call these members out. In fact, it has encouraged them by openly opposing the law and joining a lawsuit against it.
After being publicly silent on the issue, Gov. Cuomo finally found his voice last week, saying that the sheriffs are setting a “dangerous and frightening precedent” and inviting chaos.
If the defiant sheriffs really can’t bring themselves to enforce the law, as a matter of principle they should resign. If they won’t do that, Cuomo should seek to have them removed.