LOCKPORT – More than three dozen gun-rights advocates returned to City Court on Wednesday in a show of support for Paul A. Wojdan, the Lockport man who was charged with violating the state’s new SAFE Act on the number of rounds of ammunition in a magazine.
Defense attorney James D. Tresmond told City Judge William Watson that he believes the officer overstepped his bounds by opening the gun and searching the magazine. Hearings will be held at 2 p.m. Jan. 8 on motions to suppress the search and dismiss the charges.
Wojdan, 26, of Parkwood Drive, was a passenger in a vehicle pulled over Oct. 12 for a traffic stop when he handed a loaded semiautomatic handgun in a holster to an officer. The gun was legal, but Lockport police charged Wojdan for allegedly carrying more than seven rounds of ammunition in the magazine, a violation of the New York SAFE Act. It is the first arrest of this type under the new law by the Lockport Police Department.
Tresmond said the officer should have only checked the gun’s serial number to make sure the gun was legal and then returned it to his client. He said any evidence or statements made after that were “illegally obtained.”
Wojdan, who has become a rallying point in the fight against the SAFE Act, said after court, “I’m really surprised that this has gotten so much attention. I really just want it to be over.”
He said he is a gun advocate. “I agree the law is unfair and unconstitutional. I’ve always supported guns and the right to bear arms, so I guess this was meant to be. Cops shouldn’t be paid to go around harassing people.”
Lockport Police Chief Lawrence Eggert in October defended the charges, saying it is his department’s role to enforce the law. “It’s on the books, and if we see it, we have to do something about it,” Eggert said after the arrest.
However, the manual for New York State Police provides additional guidance on the inspection of guns, related to the SAFE Act, and suggests that troopers check the magazine “if there is probable cause to believe it is illegal (or) if there is founded suspicion of criminal activity.”
The manual also suggests that if a person produces a permit and there is no indication of unlawful conduct, an inspection is unneccesary.
Gordon Botting, of Lockport, who is vice president of Niagara County Shooters Committee for Political Education (SCOPE) said the case is not going to go away.
“This was a speeding ticket,” Botting said of the traffic stop. “Police had no business interviewing this passenger, but he was honest and answered their questions. They had no business going in the glove box.”
Several gun advocates suggested the SAFE Act should be called the “unsafe act.”
“The law itself is unconstitutional. You should have the right to defend yourself,” said Bob Hughes of Pendleton.
Dennis F. Cherry of Royalton, a member of SCOPE, also was in court Wednesday and said that he is no stranger to controversy involving gun issues. On Jan. 21, 2010, he was tipped off to a burglary attempt and fired 15 rounds from a rifle into a car in his garage. He was charged with reckless endangerment – charges that were later dismissed.
“I went through it, and I know what it’s like,” he said Wednesday. “It shouldn’t have happened, what happened with this guy – and it shouldn’t have happened to me.”