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It’s a Feature, not a Bug – Permit Numbers Decline Despite Bruen

Monday, July 31, 2023

It’s a Feature, not a Bug – Permit Numbers Decline Despite Bruen

The United States Supreme Court ruling striking down New York State’s concealed carry permit rules as unconstitutional was big news in June of 2022, but indications are that officials in the Big Apple are still trying to decide how to best pretend it never happened.

In that decision, New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen, the Supreme Court invalidated the State’s demanding “proper cause” requirement for carry licenses and its discretionary “may issue” licensing standard. Between the fees, paperwork and other requirements, getting a license was already a notoriously difficult and time-consuming process, with an uncertain result.

The New York Post revealed that during the pandemic of 2020, first-time firearm license applicants in New York City faced a turn-around time of 18 months or so, with an approval rate of just over 13%. At the time, a New York City Police Department (NYPD) source “familiar with the situation said the License Division was too short-staffed to deal with the flood of new applications and also blamed an unofficial reluctance to process them. ‘The politicians are generally against giving licenses, to begin with, so it’s not a priority,’ the source said.” By 2021, with government operations returning to normal, the NYPD approval rate for firearm licenses (according to another source) had climbed to 55% (2,591 out of 4,663 applications).

Even though the Bruen decision eliminated a key roadblock in the licensing regime, the apparent result is that the process has stalled even more. Although the number of new license applications overall increased significantly in 2022, only 21% (1,550) were reportedly approved. Data on just the six months following the high court ruling (June 24 to December 31, 2022) suggests that “the NYPD saw a surge in new gun permit applications, from just over 2,000 in the same period a year earlier to nearly 5,000. So far, the department has approved 503 of those, or just above 10%, despite its guidelines and state law requiring applications to be decided upon within six months.”

Meissner v. City of New York, a class action lawsuit filed this spring against New York City, the NYPD and its licensing division, and various government officials, alleges unconstitutional and “excessive delay” in the licensing process, and cites the six-month legal deadline in State law, N.Y. Penal Law §400.00 4-b (requiring, generally, that “in each case the licensing officer shall act upon any application for a license pursuant to this section within six months of the date” the application is submitted). The NYPD License Division website acknowledges the statutory deadline, indicating that new license applicants should expect to know the outcome “within approximately six months of receipt of your handgun application, and all required documents/forms.”

Two of the plaintiffs in the Meissner case had applied for firearm licenses with the NYPD licensing division in September 2021 and June 2022, respectively. As of March 2023, according to the complaint, neither had “received their licenses, nor have they received any communication from the NYPD Licensing Division explaining this delay.” The suit alleges that the delay and lack of a decision regarding their applications are not aberrations, but a widespread “deliberate, willful and wanton attempt to deny individuals their rights under the Second and Fourteenth Amendments,” and an established and sanctioned policy of a “complete disregard of the rights of citizens.” Applicants wait “in limbo” for official action, and “cannot appeal or even get in contact with licensing officers.” 

Adding to the executive-level intransigence, New York State lawmakers responded to Bruen by enacting the Concealed Carry Improvement Act (CCIA). Contrary to what the name would suggest, the law replaced the “proper cause” criteria with an as-questionable “good moral character” standard, plus requirements that the applicant provide licensing officials with a list of current and past social-media accounts, the names and contact information of family members, cohabitants, and at least four character references, and any “other information required by the licensing officer.” The law would make almost every public place a no-carry zone, and for good measure, sweeps in private property (making the default status no-carry unless it is posted otherwise). 

At a press conference on the new law, New York Governor Kathy Hochul was unmistakable about her administration’s contempt for and need to “fight back” against the high court ruling. She described the Supreme Court as deciding to “strip away the rights of a Governor to protect her citizens … by striking down a 100-year-old law… That decision wasn’t just negligent, it was reprehensible.” The Court justices “decided to take us backward… but we are not deterred, we did not back down, we stood up and fought back.” People who “legally possess [guns] under the Supreme Court ruling” must “understand that there are rules of the road that you must follow, and law enforcement will be making sure that you do follow these. That is what we are doing in the State of New York to make sure that people are safe.”

The plaintiffs in the Meissner case have their own real-life understanding of playing by the rules. In their telling, following the licensing rules resulted in law enforcement failing to comply with the law through a reprehensible, sanctioned policy of excessive delays and stripping away of applicants’ constitutional rights because – hey, it’s a feature, not a bug.

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Established in 1975, the Institute for Legislative Action (ILA) is the "lobbying" arm of the National Rifle Association of America. ILA is responsible for preserving the right of all law-abiding individuals in the legislative, political, and legal arenas, to purchase, possess and use firearms for legitimate purposes as guaranteed by the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.