LOCKPORT – Gia M. Arnold, who made repeal of New York’s SAFE Act gun-control law the centerpiece of her unsuccessful 2014 campaign for state senator, pleaded not guilty Wednesday to gun charges.
Arnold was arraigned in Niagara County Court on an indictment accusing her of possessing an assault rifle and ammunition when the car in which she was a passenger was pulled over by Niagara Falls police about 10:30 p.m. Feb. 10.
As about 15 supporters looked on, Arnold’s attorney, James M. Ostrowski, said Arnold’s defense will include a challenge to the constitutionality of the controversal SAFE Act,
“We’re going to challenge the legality of the search,” Ostrowski said after court. “We’re going to challenge the constitutionality of the law. … There’s a right to bear arms under the Constitution.” The laws Arnold is accused of violating are not part of the SAFE Act, which Arnold, 26, of Rochester, sought to repeal. She lost the Republican primary for 62nd District state senator two years ago to Robert G. Ortt, who won his first term in 2014 and is unopposed for re-election this year.
Most of Arnold’s supporters in court were men in black T-shirts bearing such slogans as “The Second Amendment is my gun permit,” “NYS Militia” and “Repeal the SAFE Act.”
Ostrowski is scheduled next Wednesday to discuss pretrial motions with Judge Sara Sheldon, who continued Arnold free on $1,500 bail posted in Niagara Falls after her arrest.
Police reported at the time of the arrest that they stopped a car at Haeberle Avenue and 15th Street for failure to signal a turn. The driver was Halim Johnson, 18, of Centre Avenue in the Falls, who has been indicted on the same weapons charges as Arnold. His arraignment is scheduled next week.
Police reported that they saw an ammunition clip on Arnold’s seat and a rifle jammed between the seat and the passenger door. They said Arnold threw a coat over the rifle in an effort to conceal it. Arnold’s indictment also includes a count of obstructing governmental administration.
“She was not engaging in any unlawful behavior,” Ostrowski said. “She believed that she had a Second Amendment right to possess that rifle. There was no intention to violate the law as she understood it.” On Ostrowski’s advice, Arnold declined to be interviewed, as did Johnson, who attended the arraignment.
Arnold, a mother of three, attained notoriety during her Senate race by suspending her campaign after announcing, without having been asked, that she had indulged in an extramarital affair. She resumed her campaign a week later, saying she had been urged to do so by supporters. She was living in Albion at the time.