Westchester County, New York: Legislators Reconsider Local Gun Storage Laws

Posted on Aug 30 2010 - 11:48am by Winnie Hsiu

In response to a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling, legislators in Westchester County, New York have been considering changing local gun storage laws to make it possible for gun owners to more quickly access their guns in the event that they need to defend themselves in their homes. Gun advocates had hoped that legislators would change the laws, which they argued violated U.S. citizens’ right to bear arms. Legislators last week decided to hold off on making any changes to gun storage laws, at least for the time being. But the dialogue will probably continue for some time.

According to Westchester County Legislation Committee Chairman John Nonna, who spoke to the Mid-Hudson News last week, there are three basic issues.

“One is the constitutionality of our gun storage law,” he explained. “Two, how the gun storage law is enforced; and three, whether our licensing procedure complies with state law.”

Westchester County gun storage laws currently require gun owners to keep their guns under lock and key, using a safety lock or placing the guns in a safe storage unit. The county law has been on the books since 2000.

On June 28 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in McDonald v. Chicago that state governments, like the federal government, cannot ban handguns. The ruling also extended a different ruling, Heller v. District of Columbia, that upheld an individual’s right to keep a firearm at home and to use it for self-defense if necessary. That ruling struck down a firearm ownership regulation enacted by the District of Columbia in 2007.

The Westchester County law does not prohibit a citizen from keeping a firearm at home. But, Westchester County Firearm Owners Association president J. Scott Sommavilla argued, the law made it impossible for a person to use a gun stored at home for self defense.

“You have to have the latitude to store as you see fit,” Sommavilla commented. “How you store it is up to the gun owner.”

Westchester County lawmakers, however, were not swayed by Sommavilla’s arguments.

“When this legislature passed these laws, they were constitutional,” Martin Rogowsky, chairman of the Westchester County Committee on Public Safety and Security, told LoHud.com last week. “If we were passing the laws today, we might pass the same laws….I’m less inclined to play judge on our own laws. Until a judge rules on the Westchester County law, we have a law on the books.”

Legislator Tom Abinati agreed. “I think our statute is fine,” Abinati told LoHud.com. “It is a balance between the rights of gun owners and the rights of society to ensure that guns are stored responsibly.” 

Sources used:

McKinstry, Gerald. “Westchester to keep gun-storage law for now.” Lo-Hud.com. Aug. 24, 2010.

“Westchester lawmakers consider county’s ‘right to bear arms’ law.” Mid-Hudson News Network. Aug. 24, 2010.