by Steve Piatt
(Opinion piece published in New York Outdoor News, Vol 15, No 10, May 17, 2019)
A western New York man convicted under the SAFE Act has seen that conviction overturned by the New York State Supreme Court.
The ruling, however, wasn't an indictment of the SAFE Act itself; the court instead ruled that the now former New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman had no jurisdiction to handle the case.
Benjamin Wassel of Silver Creek (Chautauqua County) had been charged with selling an AR-15, an AR-10, ammunition and magazines shortly after the January 2013 passage of the SAFE Act. In May of 2014 he was convicted in Chautauqua County Court of third-degree criminal possession of a firearm and two counts of third-degree criminal sale of a firearm. He was sentenced to probation and fined $375.
His attorney, James Ostrowski, says the felony charges against Wassell will be wiped off his record. The widely criticized SAFE Act, however, lives on. While the state Supreme Court ruled that the attorney general can prosecute a case "only on request of the head of a department, authority, division or agency of the state." That request was not made, the court ruled.
The same five-judge panel didn't address Ostrowski's contention that the SAFE Act is unconstitutional, among other arguments."In light of our determination, we do not address defendant's remaining contentions," the court wrote.
Wassell's sale of the firearms to an undercover officer came just days after the late-night, rapid fire passage of the SAFE Act by the state Legislature. Wassell, a Marine veteran who served twice in Iraq, said he was unaware of the new law.
But the SAFE Act remains intact, and the Wassell ruling serves as more of an individual victory than one that puts a nail in the coffin of the SAFE Act. The ongoing court battles - as well as some long-shot legislative efforts - to overturn or repeal the SAFE Act will undoubtedly continue.
****** As we count down the days to the end of the legislative session in Albany, sportsmen and gun owners are keeping a close eye on several bills that are, at last check, thankfully stalled in committee. Among them are a proposal to end the pheasant rearing program in New York, and another that threatens the popular Scholastic Clay Target League.
Bottom line: we're going to breathe a sigh of relief when this session comes to a close.
Original article shortened for brevity email@example.com