District attorney candidates debate SAFE Act
PENN YAN—The Shooters Committee on Political Education (SCOPE) sponsored a district attorney (DA) candidates forum at the Penn Yan Elks Club held Thursday, Aug. 22. Some 140 people attended the debate. The event allowed incumbent District Attorney Jason Cook and challenger Valerie Gardner to defend their positions on the Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement (SAFE) Act and DA office staffing levels, while also answering questions from the crowd.
Yates County Scope President Jack Prendergast acted as timekeeper during the forum and allowed each candidate to make an opening statement on their positions before answering questions from those in attendance. Prendergast said it was decided before the forum Gardner was to speak first.
Gardner opened by saying she has had a pistol permit since 1989 and will focus on prosecuting the most serious crimes affecting the community rather than prosecuting law-abiding citizens. Gardner also said “I will do everything I can to repeal the SAFE Act.”
“Today it is no less important for us to observe that these constitutional rights that not only our forbearers fought hard for, shed blood for, our veterans have defended throughout the years and we still need to defend today,” Gardner said. “Whether you are a gun owner or not, whether you like guns or you don’t, really this issue is much deeper than that because it is about our basic fundamental rights as American citizens. [...] What the laws have to be is constitutional.”
Gardner said she has been in Yates County since 1999 and has worked in the district attorney’s office in the past, as well as operating her own law practice. She said she has been a prosecutor for 17 years and her trial record is more than 99 percent. Gardner said she is not afraid to try new outcomes and will not infringe on the constitutional rights of the people.
“We have a SAFE Act that was passed immediately and in the wake of a horrible tragedy in our society,” Gardner said. “Unfortunately there is nothing that any legislation is ever going to do to correct what happened there. [...] No law is going to legislate people into a state of sanity.”
Cook said he has been a longtime member of SCOPE and the National Rifle Association (NRA), and is also a pistol permit holder. He said he has been a hunter and sportsman all his life and knows what it is to be a gun owner. Cook said it is not about politics or words, but about core personal convictions and fundamental personal beliefs to be a gun owner.
“I know that this issue, guns, as much as it has been in the news this year and now the SAFE Act, it hits home for all of us,” Cook said. “I believe to truly understand what gun owners think about [...] you have to be a gun owner. It is a very personal issue.”
Cook said he has consistently been a gun owner and consistently honored and supported the Second Amendment. He said as a person who has prosecuted gun crimes, he knows the difference between those who use guns in crimes and law-abiding citizens. Cook said he intends to continue focusing on people who commit crimes with firearms rather than those who use them properly.
“I know why it matters,” Cook said. “It matters because there is an anti-gun crowd out there in Washington, in Albany, in New York City. [...] They use any gun crime that happens anywhere and they use that as an excuse, as their reason to pass more gun laws.”
Another topic of debate was the current staffing levels in the district attorney’s office. Cook said he uses the current staffing levels that were there when he was elected to the position four years ago. he said it was approved by the legislature in 2007 and is currently working well.
Gardner said she will propose some changes to the staff if elected. She said while the DA’s job is a full-time one, she will save taxpayers money by making one of the current assistant district attorney positions part-time. She said while it will not solve all financial woes, she will still be providing a better service for less money. Gardner said she will do her best to look at her office to find efficiencies.