Onondaga County Sheriff Kevin Walsh says he will "probably" turn down a Freedom of Information request for the names and addresses of pistol permit holders.
Walsh says he is awaiting more information from the New York State Sheriff's Association as well as State Clerks Association regarding the release of such information in accordance with the New York Safe Act.
The Sheriff told CNY Central's Jim Kenyon that he expects to deny the request because it would be used for commercial purposes. But Walsh added that eventually he may have to fulfill future requests for the data because the grace period for exemptions under the NY Safe Act has expired.
After a downstate newspaper published a list of pistol permit holders earlier this year, the NY Safe Act included a provision that allows individuals to exempt their information from public disclosure. Out of the estimated 60,000 handgun owners in Onondaga County, approximately 10,000 have filled out exemption forms.
On Tuesday, dozens of gun owners showed up at the Onondaga County Sheriff's Department's Pistol Permit office to fill out the exemption forms. Walsh says at least a hundred more filled out the forms on-line.
Donna Kimberly and her husband Ronald were among the people filling out the forms. She said public disclosure would endanger their lives because criminals might use the information to target homes to steal guns.
Another gun owner who asked not to be identified said public disclosure might have just the opposite effect by alerting criminals that someone in a household is armed and capable of defending himself. That individual made out the exemption form anyway.
CNY Centralâ??s Jim Kenyon asked officials with eMerges.com several questions about what the company intends to do with the information. Below are the questions and answers.
Question: What is the purpose of your FOIL request?
Answer: The New York Committee on Open Government describes a FOIL request best: "Every New York State or municipal department, board, bureau, division, commission, committee, public authority, public corporation, council, office or other governmental entity performing a governmental or proprietary function is subject to the Law."
Private corporations or companies are not subject to the Freedom of Information Law. eMerges, just like you all at CNY Central can make a FOIL request provided any statutes restricting use or permitting only particular uses are adhered to. Under the same law, a FOIL requester is not required to list their purpose. However one possible use would is a safety recall for a concealed weapon. Another use is a political mailing by the NRA for example, to help stop a law negatively impacting law abiding gun owners Second Amendment rights.
But under the SAFE ACT, new more comprehensive regulations were enacted to offer options for those those pistol permit holders who did not want their name and address released. New York State SAFE ACT, Penal Law §400.00(5)(a) states that "Except as provided in paragraphs (b) through (f) of this subdivision, the name and address of any person to whom an application for any license has been granted shall be a public record." Paragraphs (b) through (f) of Penal Law §400.00(5) allow for pistol permit holders to request that their names and addresses be exempt from the disclosure requirement of paragraph (a)!
But there are even exceptions to the SAFE ACT law as well that give gun owners even more protection! New York state also requires that a request can be denied as an infringement on personal privacy if the "release of lists of names and addressesâ?¦ would be used for solicitation or fund-raising purposes." Public Officers Law §89(2)(b)(iii). Of course as you can imagine Onondaga county can not just yell liar, liar pants on fire and say no to eMerges. In the United States we still presume innocence however just to put peoples minds at ease, eMerges does take the extra step of certifying by affidavit that it will use any restricted data according to Public Officers Law §89(2)(b)(iii).
In addition Onondaga county law requires that anyone requesting a carry concealed weapon database have their name publically broadcast to the print, TV, radio and news media. Can you imagine how many people have bombarded Sheriff Walsh's office with Opt Out requests today alone? This is no "back room", "behind closed door process", everyone's right to know and right not to be known is double and triple protected (except for maybe the people asking for the permit data).
Again though be mindful that any pistol permit holder can opt to have their name and address removed any time by submitting: OPT OUT and hence eMerges would never even get that pistol holders record!
Question: How would the information be used?
See REPLY number one. The data eMerges has acquired from all over the United States over the past decade is used only for permitted or unrestricted purposes. For example, we maintain a copy of the Washington state voter file, if that voter file were to be misused for commercial purposes we would be subject to up to 9 million dollars or more in monetary fines and risk the incarceration of our officers!
We take the law seriously.
We segregate all of our data just like Onondaga county does---into piles of permitted or unrestricted use and we allow the data to be used only for purposes permitted no forbidden by law. Again, under the law, a FOIL requester is not required to list their purpose but rather to guarantee it will only be used as permitted by law.
Question: Can people opt out of your data base if they so choose and if so, how would they go about that?
Again, any pistol permit holder is guaranteed by law that their record will NEVER see the light of day by simply submitting this form: OPT OUT to the county sheriff Kevin Walsh.
Question: How does your company react to the concerns of individuals here in Onondaga County who feel that this information should be private and that its release could endanger them?
Answer: Again, any pistol permit holder is guaranteed by law that their record will NEVER see the light of day by simply submitting this form: OPT OUT to the county sheriff Kevin Walsh.
The reality is that the county has not even converted the data to electronic media. Secondly, Sheriff Kevin could presume our guilt and allege eMerges pants were on fire and deny release of the data when it becomes available. But we think that after everyone looks at all the processes and safeguards in place, we will have a successful resolution of this very interesting subject. Incidentally, you did not ask but eMerges will not contractually permit any media or news organization from randomly printing the names and address of permit holders, period.