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COMMENTARY

Rod Watson: Want to protect gun rights under SAFE Act? Don’t get sick

"We just want to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and others who should not have them."

That’s the mantra every time Gov. Andrew Cuomo and other politicians snooker the public with "reasonable" gun control measures like the SAFE Act or the plethora of bills Democrats have unleashed since taking full control of Albany.

But the next time you hear that political poppycock, remember Lois Reid.

Reid is not a criminal, a terrorist or a madwoman.

She’s just a 71-year-old law-abiding citizen who was stripped of  her guns for five years because of the SAFE Act, before finally reclaiming her Second Amendment rights last month.

Reid was victimized not by criminals, but by her own government. Why? Because it’s easier for politicians to pretend like they’re doing something by targeting those who follow the law than by going after those who don’t.

Her ordeal began shortly before Christmas 2013 when Reid went to Buffalo General Hospital and was transferred to Erie County Medical Center. She suffers from a form of mitochondrial myopathy, a neuromuscular disease she said left her disabled since 1990 and bedridden most of the time until it was finally properly diagnosed in 2011. An expensive compound medication she calls "a miracle" got her back on her feet until her insurance company stopped paying for it two years later.

That’s when she went to the hospital and the SAFE Act kicked in, with an interrogation about whether she owned a gun – which she refused to answer – and what ended up as an erroneous designation as an "involuntary" admission, which can imply mental health issues that trigger a report to the Integrated SAFE Act Reporting System.

That started a chain reaction that led to her pistol permit being suspended the following month. Because her guns were co-registered with her husband and son, she didn’t have to turn them in, as is normally done. But they had to be locked in her husband’s gun safe and the court barred her from "any physical contact with any of these weapons."

Because she maintains a separate condo, it meant Reid – who had an "unrestricted" permit allowing her to carry – was suddenly without protection.

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"I had to change things," she said, explaining that she stopped going to shopping malls alone because parking lots and ramps "are good places for women to be targeted."

"I felt extremely vulnerable," said Reid, who even stopped attending an evening church service unless her husband accompanied her.

"I had to make changes in my life," she said.

And all because of an erroneous report she suspects was triggered by a hospital staffer angry over her refusal to answer the gun questions.

It took two years before the office of Niagara County Judge Matthew Murphy got to the bottom of what happened, concluding that her disease has "a plethora of neurological symptoms that often manifest – and are frequently misdiagnosed – as psychiatric, rather than physical" and that the hospital "appears to have misperceived the symptoms."

Indeed, according to Mitochondrial Disease News, the most frequent misdiagnoses are, in order, psychiatric disorder, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome and multiple sclerosis.

That erroneous diagnosis, along with an equally erroneous designation of Reid as an "involuntary" admission, started a series of false reports that the judge found ended with the State Police notifying the Erie County Pistol Permit Licensing Office that Reid "‘has been adjudicated as a mental defective or has been involuntarily committed to a mental institution.’ Neither of these claims is accurate."

The Niagara County judge got the case to avoid conflicts of interest because Reid and her husband, gun-rights advocate Harold "Budd" Schroeder, are well-known here and Schroeder is a past president of the Judges and Police Conference of Erie County. After digging into it, Murphy ordered her pistol permit reinstated without restriction in June 2015.

But that, along with resolving the insurance snafu, was only half of Reid’s battle.

Lois Reid and husband Harold “Budd” Schroeder check her target after she shot the handgun she just got back after being erroneously placed in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System and being denied access to the gun for five years. (Derek Gee/Buffalo News)

As a result of the misdiagnoses and erroneous reports, she also had been listed in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, or NICS. As long as she was on that list, created under the Brady Bill, she was barred from reclaiming her guns.

After doing internet research, working through a bureaucratic maze for years and ignoring advice to try to get the hospital to correct the mistake, she finally just sent in the judge’s decision. The FBI accepted that and removed her from the NICS list last month.

Even now, though, it’s still not clear how Reid got termed an "involuntary" admission. She said she went to Buffalo General one afternoon, but didn’t get a bed at ECMC until the following day. Exhausted and without her glasses, she signed what she thought was a standard admissions form. It actually was admission "as a voluntary-status patient to this hospital which provides care and treatment for persons with mental illness."

Of course, she doesn’t have mental illness, as the judge concluded. But even then, it’s not clear how that became the "involuntary" admission that cost Reid her Second Amendment rights for five years.

"I couldn’t go target shooting or anything," said the avid gun-rights proponent.

ECMC said privacy laws prevent it from commenting.

Reid – who was part of a previous unsuccessful SAFE Act lawsuit – had wanted to sue again, but multiple lawyers told her she missed the deadline because the clock started ticking in 2015 when she get her permit back, not last month when she got off of NICS.

Now, the best she can do is warn others of the hazards of a badly written law rushed through Albany in the dead of night. The SAFE Act was passed under a "message of necessity" with no time to even read it, let alone debate it, just so politicians could say they did something after the Sandy Hook school shooting.

Shortly after the law’s passage, the New York Times filed a Freedom of Information Law request to get a tally previously denied by the Cuomo administration, and found there were some 34,500 names on the Safe Act’s mental health list, most of whom wouldn’t even know it unless they owned a gun or tried to buy one. That was 2014, meaning tens of thousands of New Yorkers no doubt have been added to the list since then.

The law’s other shortcomings – the seven-round limit struck down by two federal courts, the pistol permit recertification fiasco, the cosmetically-based "assault weapons" ban – also have been manifesting themselves ever since it was passed, making life a hassle for legal gun-owners like Reid while criminals ignore it.

After her ordeal, Reid has some advice for others: cross-register your guns to make sure the government doesn’t seize them when it screws up like this, and never go to "any hospital in New York State that has a mental health unit."

There’s one more bit of advice she might have offered: Stop voting for politicians who masquerade as crime-stoppers by passing bills targeting legal gun owners instead of criminals.

 

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