Amid calls to amend laws governing firearm purchase and ownership in states from coast to coast, New York has been cited as one of the states with the lowest rates of gun-related deaths in the country. To understand how we got to such a low rate, we need to examine state-wide and county-specific legislation.
There are essentially only two types of firearm that can be sold in New York State: pistols, and rifles or shotguns. The NY SAFE (Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement) Act of 2013 enacted stricter rules about owning and selling “assault” weapons, as well as NICS background checks, and certain gun-design characteristics. Unless fitting a very narrow definition as an “antique” firearm or having been grandfathered in as a firearm featuring some of the above qualities but registered prior to April 15, 2014, nothing that could broadly be described as an “assault weapon” may be sold in New York State. Anyone owning anything classified as an “assault” weapon must have it registered with the state.
Hunting rifles and shotguns — such as those used for hunting with very limited firing and reloading capabilities such as pump- or bolt-action — are not affected by the SAFE Act and may be purchased from a licensed dealer, hunting store, or even a Walmart when available. No permit is required to purchase or own these (outside of New York City) and they need not be registered with New York State (again, outside of New York City). Sporting and hunting long guns can generally be purchased by anyone over the age of 18, subject to an in-store background check and retailer policy. (Minors may possess hunting weapons with a valid NYS hunting license but may not purchase them.)
Pistols are the only other type of firearm legally purchasable in New York, and are the subject of more rigorous legislation. Handguns may be purchased in New York only with a valid and current pistol permit, the requirements for which are overseen by each county. As per New York State legislation from July 2019, the manufacture, sale, transport, and possession of undetectable and 3D printed firearms are banned.
In order to purchase any handgun, a pistol permit is required. These can only be issued to person 21 and older (unless honorably discharged from the military) who legally reside in the permit’s issuing county, are demonstrably “of good moral character” and of sound mental health, having never been committed or displayed any mental defects or diseases and are readily shown to be of the independence and mental faculty necessary, are not the subject of any protective orders, have no felony or major convictions (including cases of domestic violence), and have never had a pistol firearm license revoked or currently under suspension. Additionally, applicants must show “just cause” for owning a firearm, such as for work, target shooting, or defense. Counties issue permits “at will,” and can deny an application for any reason.
Applicants are also required to submit their fingerprints, and undergo extensive background checks conducted in conjunction with the FBI. All individual firearms are likewise registered to a federal database and are, unless exempted by the submission of a specific opt-out form, are publicly available through Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) requests.
Background checks are likewise required of all sales and transfers of firearms, even by private sellers, the only exception being between spouses/partners and parents/children. These checks can be performed by any licensed dealer and typically do not cost more than $10.
Pistol permits can be issued on a personal or premises basis. The latter allows a firearm to be possessed or used only at a specified location, i.e. home or work, and the permit must be stored in that location. A personal permit allows a firearm to be carried on your person, and is required to be carried at all times when in possession of the weapon. These permits can be issued to certain banking messengers, judges and justices, corrections officers, antique collectors, but most often to private individuals demonstrating proper cause.
This is a rather interesting point. Since they require only a hunting license, rifles and shotguns may be carried and transported openly when unloaded. Otherwise, New York State law does not allow for open carrying of any firearm.
As a result, all personal pistol permits issued in New York State are technically “concealed carry,” in that it is not permissible to openly wear or brandish a handgun in public. Certain areas such as schools, state parks, and government offices are always off-limits, and New York does not recognize firearm permits issued in any other state, whether concealed or open carry.
This is one of the few areas where county regulations differ throughout the Hudson Valley.
Albany, Greene, Ulster, and Westchester Counties all require a New York State pistol permit course, while Columbia, Orange, Rensselaer, and Rockland Counties require a course specified by the county sheriff’s department. Putnam County specifically requires an NRA Basics of Pistol Shooting course (though police and other peace officers may be exempted).
Dutchess County is the lone municipality that does not require the completion of a New York State pistol permit course in order to receive a pistol permit, though the certification is offered and encouraged. This does not necessarily make it easier to obtain a pistol permit in Dutchess, however.
Frank Letizia is a detective with the Dutchess County Sheriff’s Office Pistol Permit Investigation Bureau. According to Letizia, while counties like Westchester issue “restricted licenses” specifically limiting ownership to the causes listed on an application — once again, hunting, defense, sport shooting, etc. — Dutchess County issues “full carry” licenses, wherein applicants typically list their reason for gun ownership as “all lawful purposes.” This actually leaves less room for consideration, as a potential impediment to any one reason for gun ownership would immediately disqualify an applicant entirely.
“All the facts that we collect on a person go to the county judge, who is the actual licensing officer,” Detective Letizia says. “They have say over whether or not somebody’s going to get a license, based on our investigation.”
New York State is currently in the process of building a new, comprehensive database of all active pistol permits. As of January 2018, more than a quarter-million residents had re-certified their permits. It was estimated prior to this the total number of permits could be as high as 1.2 million.