Concealed Carry 'Improvement' Act Leads to 50 Percent Decline in Permits in NY County

AP Photo/Mary Altaffer

New York's Concealed Carry Improvement Act is a prime example of why we need truth-in-labeling laws for legislation, punishable by a public flogging or (at the very least) an atomic wedgie for those lawmakers found guilty of crafting a false narrative around their bills with a patently false title. 

The CCIA hasn't improved anything for concealed carry permittees and applicants in New York since it was rushed into enactment following the Supreme Court's decision in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen two years ago. Broad swathes of the state are now off limits to concealed carry when they were open to permit holders for decades beforehand, and though the state's requirement that applicants demonstrate a justifiable need to carry has disappeared, many licensing authorities are now using "good moral character" and "suitability" as an equally subjective replacement to the language the Supreme Court struck down. 

As the NYC-based website TheCity reported last summer, the approval rates for carry permits has actually declined in the Big Apple since Bruen came down, as have the total number of permits issued. In 2021, the year before Bruen took effect, the NYPD licensing bureau approved 2,591 carry permit applications; about 56 percent of every application submitted. In 2022 the number of applications increased, but the bureau signed off on just 1,550 of the 7,260 applications; a rate of only 21 percent. 

Even in places where the right to keep and bear arms isn't treated as a social and cultural evil the number of carry permits issued has declined substantially; not because of any anti-2A animosity, but because of the post-Bruen rules that are now in effect. In St. Lawrence County, for instance, 762 people applied for permits in 2022, but that number plummeted to just 311 last year; a decline that the local sheriff and county attorney blame on the CCIA and its mandates. 

Sheriff Rick Engle says his department has taken over pistol permit background checks for county residents. In the past, it was being done by a combination of village police, state police, and the sheriff’s office.

“The background investigations that the sheriff’s office has done in the past, the people received their permit usually within three months and other people that were being done by different agencies could be up to 18 months to two years,” said Engle.

County Attorney Stephen Button blames New York state’s Concealed Carry Improvement Act for the long wait times, involving lengthy background checks. He says the act goes against the original 1791 phrasing of the Second Amendment.

“We believe that the correct analysis for the imposition of any law with respect to the firearms is supposed to be based on the Bruin [sic] historical analog analysis. And that historical analysis basically says that if it wasn’t in commonplace in 1791 at the time of the ratification of the Second Amendment, it shouldn’t be put in place now,” he said.

Ignore for a second the fact that the local reporter who covered the decline is apparently so unfamiliar with the Bruen decision that she thinks it has to do with Bruins and not former NY State Police Commissioner Kevin Bruen. Maybe she got armed bears confused with bearing arms? Regardless, I'm going to assume she at least managed to quote the sheriff and county attorney accurately in their assessment of the impact of the CCIA since it took effect, including checking on an applicant's "good moral character." 

Sheriff Engle says it lengthens the process.

“There’s been times in the past where I myself have been conducting the background investigations and had to call the applicant up and have him contact his reference to have them get ahold of me. So that can be a delay,” he said.

Now, not only were character references virtually non-existent in the gun laws on the books in 1791, no other constitutionally-protected right comes with a similar mandate in New York. Can you imagine if you had to have four friends or neighbors attest to law enforcement that you weren't the type of person to say something offensive before you could legally exercise your freedom of speech, or declare that you're not a pedophile before you were allowed to become a priest? There's no way such an egregious affront to the Constitution would be allowed to remain in place, but so far the federal courts have declined to strike down the "good moral character" clause even as they've placed other parts of the CCIA on hold. 

That clause and other portions of the post-Bruen application process appear to be having a chilling effect. It may very well be that the number of carry applications surged in 2022 after the Bruen decision was released in late June  of 2022 and before the CCIA took effect in September of that year, but I doubt that alone explains the more than 50 percent decline in the number of applications. More likely, many would-be applicants are seeing the struggles others are going through and deciding its not worth the time and expense to get their state-approved permission slip to exercise a fundamental right. 

Thankfully, the St. Lawrence County Attorney so unhappy by what's happening to the Second Amendment in the Empire State that he's helping to undo some of the damage done by New York Democrats. Button is serving as one of the members of the legal team in Antonyuk v. Nigrelli, and his office announced just a few days ago that he's playing a similar role in Higbie v. James, which challenges New York's refusal to recognize any out-of-state permits while making it impossible for almost every non-resident to apply for a New York carry license. If the state had more law enforcement officers like Button and fewer of those like Letitia James, New York would be a much better (and free) place. Even with Bruen New Yorkers face an uphill fight in trying to exercise their Second Amendment rights, but I'm heartened to see folks like Button lending their time and energy to level the playing field and restore some constitutional guardrails to the out-of-control lawmakers in Albany.