Last week, we brought to your attention the story that the Nassau County, New York District Attorney’s Office required its attorneys and other staff, as a condition of employment, to forego their constitutionally-protected right to own a pistol at home. That story had legs, and apparently generated more than a little heat for the Acting District Attorney, Madeline Singas (above). So much so, in fact, that she’s now decided to backtrack: her staff can now own handguns at home without fear of reprisals at work . . .
Professor Eugene Volokh (who reported the story initially) has the full text of memoranda drafted by Albert Teichman, Chief Assistant District Attorney. A few money quotes from the memo:
This policy [banning DA staff ownership of handguns at home] was [originally] established to absolutely avoid the dangers posed by armed, ununiformed lawyers working in charged situations like crime scenes, with other armed law enforcement, without proper firearms training, to prevent friendly fire tragedies like those that have occurred in recent years in Nassau County and neighboring jurisdictions. Including:
* In 2006, off-duty NYPD Officer Eric Hernandez was shot and killed by an on-duty officer after attempting to apprehend suspects who had attacked him.
* On January 25, 2008, off-duty Mt. Vernon, New York, Police Department Officer Christopher Ridley was shot and killed by officers from another department while Ridley was holding a suspect.
* On May 28, 2009, off-duty New York City Police Department (NYPD) Officer Omar Edwards was shot and killed by another officer as Edwards was in foot pursuit of a suspect who had broken into Edwards’s car.
And these incidents were cited, too:
additional friendly fire tragedies followed in Nassau County, specifically:
* On March 12, 2011, plainclothes Nassau County Police Officer Geoffrey Breitkopf was killed by an MTA Police officer at an active crime scene in Massapequa Park.
* On December 31, 2011, off-duty ATF Special Agent John Capano was killed in a friendly-fire incident involving a retired Nassau County Police Department Lieutenant and off-duty NYPD Officer during a pharmacy robbery.
So…the policy was implemented to bar DA office attorneys and staff from owning handguns at home due to a series of force-on-force shootings by police in the course of their duties. In a part of a state where getting a license to carry a concealed firearm in the first place is a task of Sisyphean proportions.
Actually, that sounds like standard gun control logic to me, so I’m not even surprised by it.
The new policy is as follows.
Handgun Ownership and Possession by Assistant District Attorneys:
It is the policy of the Nassau County District Attorney’s office that Assistant District Attorneys are strictly prohibited from carrying or possessing a weapon any time they are working, including, but not limited to work in the DA’s office, courthouses, crime scenes, witness interviews and meetings with other agencies, without the express written permission of the District Attorney of the District Attorney’s authorized designee.
Assistant District Attorneys are permitted to own and possess a legally registered handgun in their homes or for legally permitted activity unrelated to their employment and workplace. Any Assistant District Attorney who as a result of this policy change acquires a handgun is encouraged to take a firearm safety course.
Any Assistant District Attorney who owns handgun must supply a copy of all licensure and registration documentation to the DA’s office. Violations of this policy may result in termination.
It should be pointed out that this policy was specific only to Nassau County. Other counties had very different takes on the matter. The Times Union reports that Rensssalear County, New York DA Joel Abelove actually encourages his assistants to apply for permits. In fact, he’ll even pick up the tab for the licensing and training fees:
“I’m not suggesting my staff has to arm themselves,” Abelove said. “I just wanted them to know I support them if they want to carry a gun.”
Several of the judges in the county’s court facility have concealed-carry permits, as do some assistant district attorneys.
The state Office of Court Administration’s court officers, who are armed, require members of the public entering the building to surrender their legal sidearms, which are stored in a gun safe until the person leaves.
However, the rule doesn’t apply to prosecutors, judges and law enforcement officers. It’s unclear how the rules are enforced in every courthouse across the state because some are protected by sheriff’s departments or local police departments, while others have security handled by state court officers.
Schenctady County doesn’t go as far as the full embrace displayed by Rensselaer County, but they’re okay with it:
Schenectady County District Attorney Robert M. Carney said his office does not have an official policy on whether an assistant district attorney can carry a firearm, and he added it’s up to the individual.
“I certainly don’t restrict it,” Carney said. “There is no prohibition or encouragement.”
A big thank-you is owed to Prof. Volokh for discovering and reporting on this story, and helping to achieve a small victory for the right to keep and bear arms in a state that certainly needs every one it can get.
DISCLAIMER: The above is an opinion piece; it is not legal advice, nor does it create an attorney-client relationship in any sense. If you need legal advice in any matter, you are strongly urged to hire and consult your own counsel. This post is entirely my own, and does not represent the positions, opinions, or strategies of my firm or clients.