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Apr 22 - Apr 29, 2014

SAFE Act Results in Lockport Man's Illegal Arrest, Confiscation of Guns

By Mike Hudson

April 22, 2014

Paul Wojdan had his constitutional rights violated. But Paul, don't expect an apology. Not in Niagara County.

Three bullets.

Add in some overzealous cops and an obsessive prosecutor and you come up with a sickening stew of Constitutional violation and an expensive six-month nightmare for one 26-year-old Lockport man.

Paul A. Wojdan, 26, was arrested by Lockport police and charged with unlawful possession of an ammunition-feeding device last October. He was freed after posting $250 bail.

You see, Wojdan – who holds a valid New York State pistol permit – had a gun with a magazine holding 10 rounds of ammunition. It is illegal to have a weapon with a magazine capable of holding more than seven rounds under Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s SAFE Act.

Why the number seven was chosen is unclear. Lawmakers voting for the measure, many of whom are liberal Democrats and don’t know which end of a gun the bullet comes out of, could just as easily said six rounds, or eight.

In any event, there is no evidence whatsoever that those kind of arbitrary and capricious regulations have helped save a single life, despite the enthusiasm shown for them by Cuomo and his ilk.

Wojdan was a passenger in a car driven by his wife at about 2 a.m. Oct. 12, when Lt. Adam Piedmont of the Lockport Police Department clocked it going 44 mph in a 30-mph zone on South Transit Rd.

A second Lockport Police Department car, driven by Officer Daniel Barrancotta, joined what the cops described as a brief chase.

Piedmont said he asked if there were any weapons in the car and said Wojdan answered that there was one in a holster in the glove compartment, and his pistol permit was in the center console.

After ordering Wojdan and his wife out of the car, the officers found the permit and the gun, right where Wojdan said they were. Piedmont then directed Barrancotta to “make the gun safe.”

“My experience is, the best way to make a gun safe is to remove the magazine,” Piedmont said later.
There is a row of what are called “observation holes” in the magazine, each numbered, with bullets visible through the holes.

“I did count rounds just to confirm our reasonable suspicion that there were more than seven,” Piedmont said.

Following Wojdan’s arrest, Niagara County sheriff’s deputies confiscated five other guns listed on his pistol permit, which also covered the Ruger. Combined, the six weapons were valued at around $5,000.

The prosecution’s case seemed to suffer a serious setback two months later when Chief U.S. District Judge William M. Skretny ruled that the seven-bullet rule was unconstitutional. In a 54-page decision that upheld most of the provisions of the SAFE Act, Skretney singled out the provision.

Skretney said the provision doesn’t make sense.

“The seven-round limit is largely an arbitrary restriction that impermissibly infringes on the rights guaranteed by the Second Amendment. This Court therefore strikes down that portion of the Act,” he wrote.

He also essentially took the side of gun-rights activists, saying that the bullet limit would make a gun owner less safe against a criminal with a fully loaded clip.

“This provision, much more so than with respect to the other provisions of the law, presents the possibility of a disturbing perverse effect, pitting the criminal with a fully- loaded magazine against the law-abiding citizen limited to seven rounds,” Skretny wrote.

But the Niagara County District Attorney’s Office was undeterred. Asst. District Attorney David A. Hoffman thought the officers’ action was permissible.

“I think it’s reasonable for them to check the firearm and the magazine,” Hoffman argued. “They didn’t seek the number of rounds in it. They did it for officer safety.”

The case dragged on and Wojdan’s legal bills began to mount. Finally, at the end of February, Lockport City Judge William J. Watson ruled that the counting of bullets by the Lockport cops constituted an illegal search. Once the magazine had been removed and the semiautomatic pistol’s slide had been locked back, the gun was safe and no further examination was necessary, he said.

But Wojdan wasn’t out of the woods yet. The authorities refused to return the six firearms unconstitutionally seized at the time of his arrest, telling him to go get a court order from County Court Judge Matthew J. Murphy III ordering them to do so. More court appearances and more legal bills for what amounted to the illegal arrest of a law abiding citizen.

“This law was passed so quickly, it shows the mindset of the state Legislature on stuff like this,” said State Sen. George Maziarz. “I don’t know why the guy is having trouble getting his guns back and I really don’t know where [Niagara County District Attorney Michael Violante's] head was on this.”

This simple graph shows how easy Gov. "Nanny" Cuomo has made it.





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