Donít Bring Your Gun to Town...
Licensing In The County With the Toughest Gun Law In the State
by Barbara Kent
At the Mattituck Gun Club on Palm Sunday morning, the most passionately discussed topic was licensing. Between coffee and bagels, and rounds of trap shooting the convivial membership shared their philosophies about gun ownership and licensing.
You can obtain a gun license in Riverhead, but it wonít be easy and it will take between six and eighteen months if you are successful. The Suffolk County pistol permit is the most elusive license in the State. The licensee must undergo a profound background investigation, be fingerprinted and waive the right to privacy. An investigation is conducted of all statements made in the application. One copy of the fingerprints will be forwarded to the FBI for a search of their criminal records. Additionally, there is intense and voluminous paper work on the part of the would-be licensee. Chief Jenkins of the Suffolk County Sheriffís office in Riverhead said "We find everything. We check a licensee as thoroughly as we do police or peace officers." Paul Fallai, a Materials Manager from Wading River commented "The Sheriff came to my house and asked my wife if all my wheels were in place." It took Paul 16 months to get his pistol permit. He wondered why, since the county could do an "instant" check. Additionally, said Ray Raynor, a lobsterman in Mattituck "The new law in Suffolk County cites that for any domestic violence report brought against a licensed gun owner, that gun, all his guns, will be taken away. It doesnít have to be proven in court. Itís just gone. Everybodyís wife got the affidavit in the mail."
The most pressing issue for East End handgun owners is uniformity in licensing. New York State gun licenses issued in Sulivan County, Westchester, Orange County, Rockland, Suffolk County and New York City, etc. are each granted by a different local agency. There are two types of licenses available--a "premises" license, which is good for business or home, but must be kept on the premises and a "carry" license, for which the potential licensee must have "reason" to apply for. The reasons most generally offered are employment, protection, and competition. Until a proposed Suffolk County law entitled "A Charter Law to Require Strict Adherence by Local Firearms Licensing Officers to State Law" each municipality had the right to amend or restrict the law according to local needs. Consequently, Bob May, a postal worker and gun club member said "A New York City permit is good anywhere in the state, but a Suffolk County carry permit is not good in New York City. A Nassau permit is good everywhere but in New York City. You canít even bring your gun into New York City in a lock box."
Suffolk County has a unique set of circumstance regarding gun laws; the 5 western towns fall under the authority of the Police Commissioner who is designated as the licensing officer. The licensing officer for the 5 eastern towns is the county Sheriffís office. The licensing officer in New York City and Nassau County is the Police Commissioner; elsewhere in the state, a county judge or some other designated justice official. The determination whether to grant the license has been completely within the discretion of the licensing officer. However, the licensing officer must state "specifically and concisely" in writing the reasons for denial. A denial can be overturned in court only if shown to be "arbitrary and capricious."
Prior to 1996 Suffolk County exceeded New York State handgun permit standards by imposing restrictions or conditions on licenses to the detriment of firearms licensees, making Suffolk County gun laws among the most restrictive in the Nation. In 1996 legislators George O. Guldi, Martin W. Haley, Joseph Caracappa and Joseph Rizzo introduced a bill that was passed, which modified the law so that licensing would ostensibly be uniform throughout the state of New York. The new law, Resolution 678 section 17-2 B reads "...the department will not impose any restrictions, limitations, or requirements on licenses or licensees other than those restrictions, limitations or requirements set forth in section 400.00 of the NEW YORK PENAL LAW. However, the then Suffolk County Police Commissioner, Robert Creighton, declined to amend the restrictions/ It must be noted however that section 400 the New York State Penal Code also states that "The licensing officer may, in his discretion, add restrictions to the license, limiting the places where the handgun may be kept or carried." Commissioner Creighton subsequently resigned.
Club members compared the New York state laws with other states. Ray Raynor remarked that "Florida has the most lenient gun law in the country and their crime rate went down. D.C. has the strictest and their crime rate went up." Joe Magagnin, retired New York Fire Department and the club treasurer observed that "Car jacking was a big problem in Florida, because the criminals could distinguish who the unarmed tourists were by the license plate number. Florida passed the law that rental cars could no longer have distinguishing licenses and the rate of car jacking went all the way down. Thatís because now the criminal didnít know if it was a Florida resident or a tourist. A tourist wonít be carrying a gun, but Florida has the most lenient gun law in the nation, and the criminals donít want to get involved with a Florida resident who might have a gun." Ron Atkinson, recently retired, heatedly declared "The guy who shot those people on the Long Island Railroad got on that train knowing he was the only person on the train who had a gun...And the woman whose husband was killed is lobbying for stricter gun control... doesnít she realize that if just ONE armed citizen had been sitting there that her husband would be alive today?"
While the law has officially been rewritten, Suffolk County does not readily issue licenses. Bob Ishkanian of Leslie Edelmanís Pistol Permits in Huntington said that "The police donít want people having a carry permit so they turn down applications and look for reasons to object. We help people obtain permits because we know all the little tricks. There are 20 ways to get out of having an application rejected, such as signing it in black ink, rather than blue." An application can be denied, if it is filled out in the wrong color ink.
Chief Jenkins replied "The perspective of the handgun user, is ëWeíre good citizens, we want to possess guns and use them for all the different things that involve the business or use of firearms and we want the licenses to be unified. Our position is the counties should only issue licenses as prescribed by state law.í"
Why do these people own guns? "I was 65 when I started using guns. I never gave it much thought until I got interested in trap shooting," said Joe Magagnin. "To this day I am still not a hunter." Paul Fallai has been shooting for 8 years. He says he does it because he finds it "relaxing. "Itís the challenge between you and hitting the clay birds. I go into competitions and can shoot with some of the best shooters in the country." Bob May, whose 14 year old son was also present shooting trap, owns guns for " ...a lot of legitimate reasons. Recreation, sport, protection." Paul nodded in agreement. "Itís just fun. Itís the challenge between you and hitting clay birds. In competition, I can shoot with some of the best shooters in the country." Sibby Penny, a trap shooter and the only woman gun club member present out of perhaps ten woman members said "I wanted to feel more comfortable shooting a gun. Iím going to apply for a pistol license. I enjoy it, itís fun and I encourage others to try it."
In 1998, American guns claimed an estimated 37,000 lives. The Federal Bureau of Investigation confirms that of 22,000 gun murders nationally last year, an all-time record 12,489 involved hand guns. In the five East End towns, there are 3,044 licensed handgun owners. The average licensee owns 3 handguns, each of which must be listed on the permit. Some own one, some own none, and some own 15 or 20. Chief Jenkins emphasized the fact that on the East End "In the past five years, there have been zero crimes involving licensed guns, no school shootings and not a single incident of a kid bringing a gun to school for "show and tell" or any other reason, period."
Further investigation revealed that in the past 5 years there was in fact, one alleged "accidental" fatality in Greenport. In January, 1996 Kenneth Worrell of Greenport accused of shooting and killing a fellow hunter and friend, Ricky Purcell, was cleared of criminal charges by a Suffolk jury although he admitted drinking and using marijuana before the shooting. On May 26, 1992 A 16-year-old Greenport High School student was shot in the buttocks with a sawed-off shotgun in a village parking lot. On October 25, 1992 Newsday reported that the man known as the Riverhead sniper, 21-year-old Yusef Rahman told authorities how he killed 30-year-old Bernard Heaney in Riverhead by firing four .22-cal. bullets into him. During the sniping spree, he wounded three others. Two years prior Rahman attempted shooting a police officer. He was subsequently sentenced to 42 years to life for the murder.
Published in the Traveler/Watchman 1999