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Hudson Valley gun permit holders file thousands of bids to keep names private

A Glock representative explains features of the Glock

A Glock representative explains features of the Glock 37 Gen 4 .45 caliber pistol at the 35th annual SHOT Show in Las Vegas. (Jan. 16, 2013) Photo Credit: AP

Dutchess County's pistol permit holders are eager to exempt themselves from public records -- so much so that the county clerk's office already had 1,500 opt-out applications from gun owners by the end of Tuesday, the first day that the forms were accepted.

"They're very anxious to make sure their personal information is protected," said County Clerk Brad Kendall, noting Dutchess has 40,000 pistol permit holders.

This week promises to be a busy one for Hudson Valley county clerks as the NYSAFE Act's privacy component kicked in. For the first time, pistol permit holders have a mechanism to protect their information from being revealed publicly by a Freedom of Information Law request.

Some counties posted their opt-out applications Friday, and some Tuesday, but county clerks were accepting them for the first time Tuesday.

The privacy exemption is part of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's comprehensive gun control laws passed in the wake of the Sandy Hook elementary school shootings in Newtown, Conn., which claimed 27 lives, including students, teachers and the mother of gunman Adam Lanza.

But the push for protecting pistol permit information was not a direct result of the shootings. It sprang from the controversy and national outcry when the Journal News, a Westchester County-based newspaper, published the names, home addresses and personal information of thousands of gun permit owners in an interactive online map.

Dutchess wasn't the only county being inundated with exemption forms Tuesday. Clerks in neighboring counties also reported similar interest from gun permit holders.

"The phone's been ringing off the hook all day," said a receptionist at the Ulster County clerk's office. "It's ridiculous."

Ulster County made the application form available on its website Tuesday. By Tuesday afternoon, 48 applications had been dropped off at the clerk's office, and gun owners were calling with questions, Ulster County Clerk Nina Postupack said.

"We definitely are anticipating quite a bit more," Postupack said late Tuesday afternoon.

In Putnam County, the clerk's office posted the opt-out form on its website Friday afternoon.

"Our No. 1 thing that happens in this office is questions about the opt-out form," said Dennis J. Sant, Putnam County clerk.

Sant said his office was going to distribute information packets by the end of the week to village halls, towns, gun clubs and dealers explaining that the opt-out forms are available but that he has no intention of releasing permit holder information through FOIL requests regardless of the new law.

The county clerk points to the recent New York Times vs. New York State Police decision as justification to deny the FOIL requests.

"It's already settled," Sant said.

The Westchester County clerk's office and a county spokeswoman did not respond to several requests for information on opt-out requests Tuesday.

In Dutchess County, Kendall said the volume of applications was a serious drain on his office's resources, calling it "absolutely an unfunded mandate on counties."

In addition to diverting manpower to handling applications from gun owners, Kendall said his employees are bogged down with questions about the new laws, questions they don't always have the answers to. And then there are logistical problems.

"We have a computer system that won't accommodate this, so we're going to have to rewrite software to do that," he said.

In Rockland County, where officials estimated they'd have about 200 applications turned in by the end of the day Tuesday, employees were running into similar problems. The county planned to work with its software provider to code a new database for the opt-out records, said Debbie Vobroucek, confidential assistant to the clerk.

Like her colleagues, Vobroucek said she could not estimate how long the process would take.

"This is new to everybody," she said.

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