VA Refuses to Rat Out Vets to New York Law Enforcement

Posted by Jason Van Steenwyk

Department of Veterans AffairsThe Department of Veterans Affairs has announced that it won’t comply with a new New York state law that requires mental health providers to report to authorities any patients they believe may be at risk of harming themselves or other people. According to a VA spokesperson, there are already federal laws protecting the privacy of veterans’ treatment records, and they take precedence over any state law.

The State of New York has recently passed a law that requires mental health professionals to report the names of any patient whom they believe may be likely to harm themselves or someone else. Civil liberties advocates had criticized the measure, saying that the law could be used to deprive veterans of their 2nd amendment right to keep and bear firearms. Some patient advocates also argued that the measure would possibly dissuade veterans from seeking counseling or other mental health care.

The Veterans Administration still refers veterans who have been deemed incapable of handling their own financial affairs to the federal firearms database, and which states have access too, and veterans could be denied a firearms permit on that basis. But the VA does not pass that information on to state authorities.

The law, the New York Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act of 2013 (also called the ‘SAFE Act’) authorizes NY authorities to revoke gun permits from individuals who have been reported by their mental health professionals, and even authorizes gun confiscation. 

The measure was due to take effect on Saturday.

It is not clear how the VA policy will apply to independent contractors treating veterans under VA contracts. An email to the Department of Veterans Affairs seeking clarification on this point was not returned.

Among its other provisions, the SAFE Act bans the acquisition or importation of any magazine with a capacity of more than seven rounds of ammunition. 10-round magazines previously owned by New York residents can be retained, but cannot be loaded with more than seven rounds.

The law also authorizes New York law enforcement officials to confiscate firearms without a court order or warrant, if they have probable cause to believe an individual is mentally unstable.

Any New York resident who owns a magazine that was legal prior to the 1994 assault weapons ban, such as a 20-round or 30-round AR-15 magazine, must sell or transfer those magazines out of state, or turn them in to law enforcement officials.

The law would effectively criminalize an law enforcement officer in the state who carries a firearm with more than seven bullets. The law has no law enforcement exemption. Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office is working on pushing an amendment to the law crafting a law enforcement exemption. But the Governor signed the law without one, anyway.

Last month, the Governor announced that his prosecutors would not deem law enforcement officials to be in violation of the law if they carried magazines loaded with more than seven rounds. There is no language authorizing the governor to do so within the law, however.

The SAFE Act is facing some legal hurdles – including a warning from the New York Supreme Court. The Court has notified the Governor’s office that the State of New York must show that the law does not violate the state constitution, or the court will impose an injunction on the enforcement of the law on April 29th.

 

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