Tuesday April 16, 2013

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) -- A man from western New York misidentified by authorities as a mental health risk under the state’s new gun law retrieved his seven handguns on Monday.

Attorneys for David A. Lewis, a college librarian from Amherst, said he retrieved the firearms from local police after having turned them in as directed by a recent letter from the Erie County clerk.

Clerk Chris Jacobs said he only followed information sent to him by state police, after forwarding it to the judge who handles handgun permits. Troopers said their county notification first required county officials to follow up in determining if Lewis was someone who posed a threat to himself or others.

The state’s new gun law requires mental health professionals to tell authorities of a patient likely to hurt someone, starting a process meant to determine if their guns should be surrendered.

"They sent this letter requiring he turn in his firearms," attorney James Tresmond said. The information was specific, including Lewis’ name, address and permit number, he said.

Jacobs told The Buffalo News that police sent him an actual copy of the permit for the Amherst man, though the person they were concerned about was from another county. The clerk forwarded the information to State Supreme Court Justice M. William Boller. The judge in turn suspended the 35-year-old Amherst resident’s handgun permit.


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State Police Superintendent Joseph D’Amico said Monday it was a misidentification based on a common name, and that troopers sent notifications to both Erie and Orange counties. That followed a mental health report and state review that identified two men with that name and approximate age who had permits. The report actually concerned a third man in another county who did not have a gun, he said.

"In the last month we sent out just over 30 letters," D’Amico said. He didn’t immediately know how many resulted in surrendered firearms.

The letters to the counties advise them to complete due diligence before suspending someone’s permit, D’Amico said. He noted that troopers have no authority for revoking or suspending gun licenses. The counties determine that, he said.

Also Monday, the union representing uniformed state troopers said they have "shared concerns" about the new law, which is unpopular in rural and upstate areas they patrol.

The Police Benevolent Association of the New York State Troopers said they believe enforcement of the new regulations "will significantly increase the hazards of an already dangerous job." Critics of the gun law fear it will result in attempts to confiscate owners’ previously legal firearms.

D’Amico said enforcement of new provisions on assault weapons won’t take place for another year and "it’s hard to forecast what kind of activity we’re going to have." He said the troopers are professionals, and regardless of their personal opinions it won’t affect their ability to do their jobs.

Registration began Monday of semi-automatic firearms reclassified under the law as assault weapons because of an additional military-style feature. They can no longer be sold in New York, and owners are required to register them by April 15, 2014.