By Joseph Spector
ALBANY, N.Y. - Sheriffs and county clerks in New York say they have been inundated with calls and visits from residents with questions about the state's new gun-control law.
They can't provide many answers.
As state officials continue an education campaign about the stringent and controversial gun law, local leaders said they have many concerns about the measure. They are also worried about having to pick up additional costs to enforce the law at a time when local budgets are already strapped.
"I think it's going to take a little time to figure out how much of this does trickle down to the local municipality," Chemung County Sheriff Christopher Moss said.
State officials insist State Police will oversee the enforcement of the new law, which includes a statewide database of gun owners and requires re-registration every five years.
WEBSITE: Information on New York's new gun-control law
State Police Superintendent Joseph D'Amico testified at a legislative hearing Wednesday that local police and municipalities won't have to pick up the tab for the law's expenses. Gov. Andrew Cuomo's proposed state budget includes $32.7 million to pay for the database and another $3.2 million for staffing needs.
"We don't expect any counties to incur costs here," D'Amico said. "That, I think, was an intention of the governor when the bill was passed. We'll be doing, as the State Police, the background checks for that five-year recertification on the pistol permits. So it will not be weighed on the counties."
D'Amico said the database, which will be set up over the next year, will benefit local police and county governments. It is aimed at being a clearinghouse of information about gun owners and to revoke licenses of those who are deemed mentally ill.
"It will allow us to not only build it with no costs to the counties, but be able to push that information back to the counties," he said. "It's much more accurate than they have now in many places."
Local officials are skeptical. About 18 counties handle gun permitting through their sheriff's offices, while the others do it through the clerk's offices or State Police.
Some county officials said they are uncertain how State Police will be able to do the background checks on permit applicants, follow up every five years when a permit is set to expire and address the myriad issues that can complicate licensing procedures.
Another part of the law requires State Police to create an opt-out form for gun owners who do not want their information made public. The form has yet to be created, but the information is being kept private for at least 120 days until it is available.
"Questions still do remain as how this is going to be handled," said Westchester County Clerk Tim Idoni. "The law says that the State Police will create the opt-out form. The question is who is going to distribute it? Obviously it's going to wind up in the clerk's office because it has to be given to the licensing officer, which in Westchester is a county judge."
State lawmakers are expected to make some minor tweaks to the law, but no major changes. State officials have been touring the state to answer questions from the public and local leaders about the law. The state also has a website to explain the law.
Republican state Sen. Greg Ball of Patterson said the law should be changed so all pistol-permit information is required to be kept private, rather than the opt-out measure. It would lessen the record-keeping work for law enforcement and local workers, he said.
"For that reason, in my opinion, it would make sense to have an absolute right for privacy and not have the need to opt out," Ball said.
Ball pushed for the records to be made private after The (Westchester, N.Y.) Journal News, a Gannett Co. Inc. publication, published an interactive map of all pistol-permit licensees in Westchester and Rockland counties. The newspaper took down the controversial map after the law took effect.
The questions surrounding the law may be more pronounced because of the rush of applications for pistol permits after the gun law was signed Jan. 15, local officials said.
Gannett's Albany Bureau reported last Thursday that pistol permits soared 14 percent in 2012, and local officials said they are seeing even greater demand after New York's law and proposed laws on the federal level.
Moss said Chemung County has 700 applications on hold and a typical processing time of three to four months will likely take twice as long now. The county added a check-off box to its applications for the opt-out provision and will include it when the state form is made available in a few months.
Some counties said permits will take more than a year to process.
Monroe County Clerk Cheryl Dinolfo has been collecting emails from residents who want information about the opt-out clause. She said she will respond to them with more information when the form is available.
In a statement last month, the state Association of County Clerks warned the state about trying to shift costs to local governments for the enforcement of the law. Even before the law, local governments and the state were battling over the expenses of unfunded state-mandated programs.
"This is just not the time to be looking at counties for paying for more programs and laws," Dinolfo said. "I'm very concerned as the county clerk in Monroe County that as this law is implemented, that the county gets presented with another unfunded mandate."
Joseph Spector is chief of the Gannett Albany (N.Y.) Bureau