"Opt-out" deadline for NY gun law passed, with backlog of applications

May 16, 2013

As the deadline for the "opt-out" portion of the New York SAFE Act passed Wednesday, the Onondaga County Sheriff's Department was still wading through thousands of forms from gun owners who don't want their pistol permit information available to the public.  

A provision of New York's gun control law lets residents "opt-out" or keep their pistol permit paperwork unavailable to anyone who makes a Freedom of Information request, if they send a form to the Sheriff's Department.  In Onondaga County, Sheriff Kevin Walsh calls it a paperwork tsunami, with  at least 10,000 of these opt-out forms flooding into the department in the last few months.

"We have a full file cabinet full of opt-out forms that we have to process, and then attach to pistol permits to make sure that we don't make an error and give out information that has been approved for opt out," said the sheriff.

Walsh doesn't think these approximately 10,000 forms even represent a majority of gun owners in Onondaga County.

"There are a lot of people who may not be aware of it, or who haven't gotten around to doing it.  Those forms are available at the Sheriff's office or on the website, so I'd still recommend to people that if you want to opt-out, you get that form filled out and get it to us as soon as possible,"  said Walsh.

The sheriff also believes the way the state handled the issue of gun owners privacy was backward.

"If you want that personal information given out, then you should sign a form to have that. But in fact what they did was say you have to opt out.  And that's caused us a tremendous amount of work.  And it's another unfunded mandate from New York on local governments to try to handle this. No resources behind this to allow us to handle it properly."

This also comes on the heels of a dramatic increase in the number of pistol permit applications in New York state since the gun control legislation was passed.  The situation is especially bad in Onondaga County, where there is still a 13- to 14-month wait for a permit appointment.  Walsh says a computer program, approved by the Onondaga County Legislature in March will help with that backlog. County lawmakers are trying to find out why it's taking so long for that  program to be installed in department computers.