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Pistol permit holders line up for privacy protection

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CANTON – Despite vocal opposition by some gun owners and guns rights advocates, the New York Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act enacted last month has one provision that has been met with enthusiasm in St. Lawrence County.

An “opt-out” clause for pistol permit holders gives people a chance to exempt their personal data from Freedom of Information Law requests, and the paperwork has been streaming into County Clerk Mary Lou Rupp’s office.

“We’ve been crazy today,” Mrs. Rupp said Tuesday.

Because of the Presidents Day holiday Monday, Tuesday was the first full day the forms had been available to permit holders looking to keep their information private.

Once a pistol permit holder has been protected under the NYSAFE Act from FOIL requests, the public will not have access to their names or addresses.

Law enforcement officials will still have access to the records. With between 17,000 and 18,000 pistol permit holders in the county, Mrs. Rupp said the opt-out form is so far proving popular.

To receive protection from FOIL requests, pistol permit holders must demonstrate that they actually need to be taken off the books.

According to the opt-out form, people may qualify if they feel their lives could be in danger from their personal information being made public because they are or were a law enforcement agent, they are the protected party under an order of protection, they are a witness in a criminal trial or they are or were a member of a jury.

If the life of a spouse, domestic partner or household member of a pistol permit holder could be in danger if a FOIL request reveals their personal information, that is also grounds for protection.

The form also includes a blank space for people to fill in their own reason for wanting the protection. Mrs. Rupp said she has been getting lots of forms back from people saying that “unwarranted harassment” may result if personal information is revealed.

The protection will have to be granted by St. Lawrence County Court Judge Jerome J. Richards, but Mrs. Rupp said she doesn’t think many forms will be rejected.

Legislation carrying the opt-out provision was introduced by Assemblywoman Addie J. Russell, D-Theresa, after a Westchester County-based newspaper published the names and addresses of pistol permit holders in Westchester and Rockland counties. Mr. Cuomo picked up Mrs. Russell’s legislation in the NYSAFE Act with slight expansions; her law would have protected the addresses of pistol permit holders, but their names would still have been accessible to the public.

“It provides ample opportunity to be able to put forward a reasonable reason why they should not be included,” Mrs. Russell said. “Anybody who has concerns, I encourage them to utilize this provision.”

Mrs. Rupp said her office has been “struggling” to keep up with the influx of paperwork that’s resulted from the law.

“The law has just created so much havoc in our office,” she said.

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