LOCKPORT – In a move believed to be a first in New York State, Niagara County announced Tuesday that it will fast-track pistol permit applications for people who can prove that their lives are in danger.
But the track won’t be all that fast.
County Clerk Joseph A. Jastrzemski said he expects that permits will be granted in four to six weeks in such cases, while the typical waiting period for a pistol permit in Niagara County for someone with a clean record is three to four months.
Niagara County doesn’t plan to cut any corners in the background check process. “You still have to follow all the steps,” Jastrzemski said. But someone who can show a situation of imminent danger will receive priority treatment.
Sheriff James R. Voutour said this option is intended “mainly” for situations involving domestic violence. He and Jastrzemski said they expect that such cases will be rare.
“We don’t know of any other counties that are doing it,” said Mark F. LaVigne, deputy director of the New York State Association of Counties.
In Erie County, where the waiting period for a pistol permit can be a year or more, a fast-track option hasn’t been discussed, according to Willmer Fowler Jr., the county’s pistol permit supervisor.
Fowler said his staff of five people received 3,600 pistol permit applications in the last 12 months. “There are no shortcuts for anyone. That’s why it takes so long,” Fowler said.
In Niagara County, with a four-person staff, there have been 1,751 applications in the last year, with 1,208 approved, according to Wendy J. Roberson, deputy county clerk. The county has about 31,000 active pistol permits.
Both Erie and Niagara counties have closed their pistol permit offices to the public on Wednesdays so workers can catch up with the backlog of applications.
Jastrzemski said that every applicant has to be fingerprinted for comparison with the state’s criminal database. A police officer must interview the applicant and the applicant’s spouse along with three references.
The report is referred to a judge, who can order a formal hearing if there are potential red flags in the report.
Niagara and Erie counties each use only one judge for all pistol permit matters: County Judge Matthew J. Murphy III in Niagara, acting State Supreme Court Justice M. William Boller in Erie.
The push for Niagara County’s new policy began with County Legislator John Syracuse, R-Newfane, who has sponsored many resolutions over the years opposing gun control laws.
“The right to self-defense in the Second Amendment is near-absolute,” Syracuse contended. “When someone’s life is demonstrably in danger, government red tape shouldn’t tie them up and keep them from protecting themselves and their families.”
The Shooters Committee on Political Education, or SCOPE, brought to his attention the recent case of a New Jersey woman who was stabbed to death by her ex-boyfriend, against whom she had an order of protection, while her pistol permit application was pending.
“What could have given her a fighting chance would have been the handgun she was waiting to purchase once her long-overdue permit was granted,” said John J. Peracciny, co-chairman of Niagara County SCOPE.
“We don’t want that to happen here.”
Carl A. Leas, chairman of the Erie County chapter of SCOPE, said that there are other options for self-protection. “If that’s the only reason you want a pistol permit, maybe you should consider having a shotgun in your home,” Leas said. “You can get it much quicker.”
No pistol permit is required for a shotgun, and a shotgun loaded with pellets could be more effective for an inexperienced shooter. “You can be shaky, but a shotgun has a pattern. You have multiple projectiles,” said Leas, who teaches gun safety classes.