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Sheriff Howard's March 11, 2013 Message

A Message from Sheriff Tim Howard

 March 11, 2013 - The only difference between a drunk driver with a misdemeanor dwi conviction and one with a vehicular manslaughter conviction (felony)- is luck.  Some people learn after the first dwi arrest, while others continue to push their luck.  But if a pedestrian is killed after running out between 2 parked cars into the path of a drunk driver - the driver will probably be going to jail with a felony vehicular manslaughter conviction.  Same initial crime - drunk driving - with different outcomes that could not be forseen by the driver.  

My support of responsible gun ownership has been steadfast and widely supported by responsible, law abiding gun owners.  In late December I began gathering "talking points," including rhetorical questions, and have sent it to hundreds of individuals, including some who favor stricter gun control legislation.  I have been asked to speak at a number of gun clubs and 2nd amendment rallies because of my support.  Unfortunately, a recent comment is suggesting I feel otherwise.

On a March 10 radio interview, and numerous times before that, I suggested that legislators focus their attention on the people who commit gun crimes rather than on the gun.  I have repeatedly stated that just as some people are not responsible enough to own pets, some are too irresponsible to own firearms - and just as the government does not interfere with pet ownership until after the irresponsibility or criminal conduct is demonstrated, they should not do so with firearms.  During the show a caller described police response to his home in an urban area several yrs ago, after a neighbor reported him sitting on his front porch with a shotgun.  The man admitted he was intoxicated at the time and that the gun was loaded and stored just inside the door when police arrived.  His charges were dismissed but he has been unable to get the gun returned.  I suggested the sale of the gun to a firearms dealer but also I responded that most people would be alarmed by his conduct and that my earliest gun safety training stressed that alcohol and gunpowder do not mix - not ever!

During the show I suggested, as I have several times before without objection from gun owners, that legislators should review the list of crimes for which a conviction becomes a bar to gun ownership, and I suggested that perhaps a DWI conviction might be one of them.  I did not say that it should, I was trying to provide an example in which a person would demonstrate a lack of responsibility that suggests a lack of civic responsibility. 

The comments since that time are exactly the type of comments that should have preceded the recent legislation, and might have prevented the public outrage resulting from legislation that a significant percentage of the people do not support.  My suggestion focused on the person, not the gun.  Callers focused on what was wrong with the idea - such as punishing gun owners more severely than other offenders, and limiting gun ownership within the home and the ability to defend ones home.  Some callers might have failed to realize that a felony conviction for DWI was already a bar to gun ownership, or that few people are convicted of DWI following their first offense - which is often reduced to impaired.  Some listeners might have also not realized that DWI arrests often result in the suspension of pistol permits, not necessarily the permanent revocation.  I suggested DWI as an example of convictions to be considered for the suspension or revocation of gun ownership, knowing that drunk drivers kill almost the same number of people as firearm homicides, and that the suspension or revocation of this right might serve as an additional deterrent.     

President Grover Cleveland, who once served as Sheriff of Erie County, was known as the "veto president" because of his pattern of vetoing legislation, sometimes including bills that he himself sponsored.  While I did not sponsor legislation, nor am I proposing any, I will amend my "example" and no longer suggest misdemeanor DWI conviction as a  bar to lawful gun ownership, because of the additional comments made by the callers.  However, I continue to assert that drunk driving is irresponsible behavior and clearly demonstrates a disregard for public safety.  People who drink and drive may find themselves prosecuted and convicted of crimes that already ban gun ownership.  While responsible people do not need deterrents, loss of rights, including freedom, does serve as a deterrent to crime.  Anyone wishing to know my position on gun legislation, can email me at howardt@erie.gov or call 858-7608 or write to me at 10 Delaware Ave, Buffalo,14202 - leaving a mailing or emailing address - and a copy will be sent to you.