By Rick Pfeiffer
Niagara Gazette — Larry Eggert and Robert “Bobby” Gee both know more than a few things about guns.
Both are veteran cops. Eggert the police chief in Lockport and Gee a former officer and firearms instructor on the Falls force.
They also share something else.
Eggert has been a victim of gun violence, shot in the line of duty along with Lockport Police K-9 Officer Steve Ritchie, while confronting a suspect armed with an assault rifle. Gee was one of three Falls officers who were shot at by suspects fleeing from a botched home invasion robbery attempt.
One officer was wounded. Gee returned fire, killing one of the suspects.
So how do they see the passage of the NY SAFE Act? From different perspectives to be sure.
“Being a victim of an assault weapon, I don’t have a problem with this,” Eggert said just after the law passed the State Assembly on Tuesday afternoon.
Gee was incredulous.
“Absolutely ridiculous,” Gee said when asked what he though of the act.
Still, both lawmen seemed to want more debate on the new gun safety law and suggested it is far from a perfect solution to stopping tragedies like the Newtown, Connecticut school shooting.
“There is a mix here,” Eggert said. “It isn’t just the guns and violence or the size of the (ammunition) magazines,” the Lockport chief said. “It’s the mental health component as well.”
Eggert pointed to a recent case in his jurisdiction where officers were aware that an individual with a mental health issue had weapons that should be secured, but found it difficult to gain the information they need to act.
“I’m hoping the law allows mental health professionals to be more open with us (in identifying individuals who should not have access to weapons),” Eggert said. “I hope (the law) deals with (gun violence) from a multi-plane perspective.”
As an example of that, Eggert pointed out that the assault weapon he was shot with had been purchased legally and then given to the felon who used it. The practice is what is known as a “straw sale.”
“I hope (penalties for people who engage in straw sales) are addressed in the (NY SAFE Act),” Eggert said. “You need a comprehensive look (at gun violence). You can’t just put a bandage on the problem.”
The Lockport chief said national legislation is probably the best answer so that rules on gun ownership are uniform from state to state.
“Despite the law here, you can still get in your car and drive 200 miles (to Ohio) and buy (guns there),” Eggert said.
Gee, on the other hand, while agreeing with Eggert on the mental health provisions in the new law, sees huge problems with the ammo magazine restrictions.
“The seven round magazine is a joke,” Gee said. “I was just out this past weekend, shooting with the LaSalle Sportsmens Club, there were 45 to 50 shooters doing competitive shooting, which is a sport, and we were using 22 (caliber handguns) which use a 10-round magazine. Now that is going to be illegal?”
Gee said he doesn’t own or shoot assault weapons and so, like Eggert, he is accepting of the assault weapons ban — to a point.
“I don’t own assault weapons, I don’t use them. Let them do anything they want with assault weapons,” he said. “But an assault weapons ban doesn’t work. It’s not the gun that does the crime, it’s the shooter.”
Pointing to his own shooting, Gee notes the suspects were armed with stolen shotguns, not assault weapons. He also credits his expertise in shooting, developed through competitive shooting, with saving his life and those of his fellow officers.
“It was used to shooting one-handed and that’s how I shot that night,” Gee said. Competitive shooting saved my life.”
While there maybe divergent opinions in police ranks, Niagara County’s top prosecutor, District Attorney Michael Violante, was quick to throw his support behind the new law.
“The safety and security of the citizens of Niagara County is the utmost concern for our office,” Violante said in a statement released after the law’s passage. “However, the constitutional right of our citizens to keep and bear arms must not be abridged. I feel the governor’s new legislation goes a long way to ensuring both of these goals.”
The DA also vowed to put the provisions of the new law to work immediately.
“Governor Cuomo’s legislation addresses a need to respond to the recent outbreak of violent behavior by members of our society in possession of assault type weapons,” Violante said. “My office will be prosecuting the new crimes included in this legislation with the intent to help end gun violence on our streets.”
Sheriff Jim Voutour declined to comment on the new law, saying he had not had a chance of see a full copy of it and review of its provisions.
Gee says he would favor putting armed retired police officers or former members of the military services in place like schools to provide protection for children.
Eggert, who says he’s been frequently asked for his opinion on gun control issues in the aftermath of his shooting, believes reasonable regulations on firearms will make the streets safer.
“I’m a big supporter of the Constitution and the Second Amendment,’ he said. “But do you need an AK-47 or an M-16 to hunt deer? Some of these guns are just designed to take a human life.”