AMHERST, N.Y. (WIVB) - An Amherst man had to turn over his guns under the NY SAFE Act, but it turns out, authorities had the wrong man all along. But now no one seems to be taking the blame.
News 4 has posed the question to several government officials, and no one has the answer. How did a 34-year-old college librarian from Amherst be declared mentally unfit to own a gun? Attorneys, county officials and State Police all have no answer, other than to say it was a big mistake.
"I do think that this shows again a huge flaw in this law," said Erie County Clerk Chris Jacobs. "We all look like fools - all levels of government."
Jacobs broke the news Wednesday night that "David" was the victim of a massive government mix-up.
Jacobs had been contacted days earlier by State Police and he issued a letter telling David that a state judge had suspended his pistol permit and that he had to turn his seven firearms over to Amherst Police. Later, State Police admitted it was a mistake.
David's attorney, James Tresmond, said, "And it points out this part of the SAFE Act is not safe for anybody."
The SAFE Act was designed to keep guns out of the hands of people who are dangerously mentally ill. When the SAFE Act was passed it also added a new section to the state Mental Hygiene Law, Section 9.46. When a mental health professional believes someone in their care may be a danger to self or others, the caregiver is required to contact the Director of Community Service. If they agree there is a danger, the Director of Community Service passes their recommendation on to the Division of Criminal Justice Services, which includes State Police.
But who is the Director of Community Service? Turns out, nobody knows.
"Today, we got a call that maybe it was our responsibility to do the investigation. How would we investigate? We do not have the ability to do that. We can't call. We don't know the mental health professional. That is not our role," Jacobs said.
If Criminal Justice Services finds the mental health patient has a gun permit, the law proscribes they notify the local licensing officer, in this case a judge, who then suspends the permit.
State Assemblywoman Jane Corwin this mistake should have never happened.
"When you have these kinds of things happening, is this an incentive for people to go out and get help if they are having mental problems? It is not," she noted.
The problem is, the "mistake" could have been made anywhere along that chain of agencies. In a statement, State Police said they do not have the authority to suspend a pistol permit, which is technically correct. Justice William Boller signed the suspension order, and on Thursday, he wrote a second order rescinding it.
But it remains a mystery how State Police received information that David could be a danger. No agency knows who the Director of Community Service is. If the chain was not followed, whoever reported the information could be liable to sanctions for violating David's HIPAA privacy rights.
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