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Hunters group plans to appeal decision on Smithtown firearms law

The Hunters for Deer club loses a lawsuit

The Hunters for Deer club loses a lawsuit it filed against Smithtown's firearms discharge law. Credit: Jeffrey Basinger

The lawyer for a Long Island hunting advocacy group that sued Smithtown over a firearms discharge law that effectively bars hunting in much of the town said Friday he would appeal the decision of a New York State Supreme Court judge who sided with the town.

“This was a bad decision,” said Christian Killoran, lawyer for East Quogue-based Hunters for Deer. “We feel confident our lawsuit will ultimately be vindicated.”

Hunters for Deer describes itself in legal filings as a nonprofit that provides “free deer management services to New York State residents seeking to utilize hunting as a method to reduce nuisance deer populations.” The group argued in its 2017 suit that a Smithtown law making it illegal to fire guns and bows near buildings and public places was itself illegal because under environmental conservation law, only the New York State Department of Conservation and one upstate village have the authority to legislate hunting or discharge of firearms. The local law makes a limited exception for property owned by the shooter, or where the shooter has written consent from a landowner.

Judge Joseph A. Santorelli rejected Hunters for Deer’s argument in his May 21 decision, pointing to a section of state law that explicitly allows Smithtown and several other Suffolk County and upstate towns to regulate firearms discharge when it may be hazardous to the public. Santorelli’s decision highlighted language in that section allowing the town to enact regulations that may be “more, but not less, restrictive than any other provision of law.”

Killoran, though, said Friday that Santorelli had missed the way in which Smithtown was overstepping its authority by defining a bow — the primary weapon used by deer hunters in Suffolk County — as a firearm.

While Smithtown’s code uses the term to include slingshots, bows, BB guns and air guns as well as “a weapon which acts by the force of gunpowder,” the state law that gives Smithtown the right to legislate firearms discharge never uses the term “bow.”

According to Killoran, that state law relies on a definition of firearm as laid out in penal code that includes pistols, shotguns, rifles and assault weapons.

Simply put: “A bow is not a firearm,” he said.

In a May 23 release on the group’s Facebook page, Hunters for Deer president Michael Tessitore asked for contributions to fund the appeal. “This case will be sure to have a catastrophic effect on deer management,” he wrote.

A spokesman for the DEC said the agency was reviewing the decision. Smithtown attorney Matthew Jakubowski did not respond to a request for comment.

In Suffolk County, home to most of Long Island’s 24,500 to 34,600 deer, the DEC uses population control including regulated hunting and site-specific harassment or killing of deer through methods other than hunting.

Hunters took at least 63 deer from the town in 2017 and 103 in 2016, according to DEC statistics, but local leaders say the deer population appears to be growing.

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