Thousands of Ulster County gun owners may be walking around with invalid pistol permits after a deadline passed to renew the documents. But state and local law enforcement officials say legal handgun owners who have not renewed their permits have little to fear, at least for now.
New York State has some of the nation’s strictest requirements for handgun ownership. To obtain the permit, civilians must submit to an extensive background check performed by the Ulster County Sheriff’s Office, and an in-person interview with a judge who has the power to set limits on when and where the weapon may be carried. Judges may suspend or revoke the permits if the holder is arrested, subject to an order or protection or in cases where the judge believes they pose a danger to themselves or others.
Those restrictions grew stronger with passage of the New York SAFE Act. The 2013 law, passed in the wake of the Sandy Hook school massacre, led to a ban on new sales of military-style rifles and shotguns and other gun control measures. Among the provisions included in the SAFE Act was a requirement that pistol permit holders renew the permits every five years. For permits issued before 2013, the deadline for renewal was Jan. 31, 2018. According to the SAFE Act, any permits not renewed by the deadline are automatically revoked. The rule applies to all upstate New York pistol permit holders; Westchester, Nassau and Suffolk counties and New York City all have their own pistol permitting processes).
But records provided by state police indicate that in Ulster County pistol permit renewals are lagging behind the number of licensed handgun owners. In 2015 Ulster County Sheriff’s Civil Officer John McGovern estimated that there were between 10,000 and 12,000 “active” pistol permits in the county. State police, meanwhile, say that 7,927 Ulster County residents have renewed the permits. One reason for the permit renewals is to allow state police to develop an up-to-date database of valid permit holders — something that does not currently exist. Thus it is unclear whether the numbers indicate that people did not renew the permits, or simply moved away, died or no longer possess the weapons.
Because of the confusion around the renewals, state and local law enforcement officials say they have no plans to begin enforcing the requirement by, for example, seizing guns from those who did not renew their permits. Ulster County Sheriff Paul VanBlarcum said his deputies would have no way of identifying invalid permits. “As of right now, we have no way to check that on our end,” said VanBlarcum. “We can’t check our system to make sure your permit has been renewed.”
Even the state police, who are compiling the database, say that it’s too soon for them to determine who had or had not renewed. State police public information officer Beau Duffy said that in addition to online renewals, the agency had received 50,000 paper recertification applications. Entering the new information into the database is expected to take up to a year. During that time, Duffy said, police will have no way to determine whether a gun owner has renewed or not. Duffy added that state police would continue to accept permit renewals submitted after the deadline.
“There are a lot of moving parts to this, it’s not cut and dried,” said Duffy. “Our goal is just to get more accurate records.”
Pistol permits can be recertified online at https://firearms.troopers.ny.gov/pprecert/welcome.faces.