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State continues to process pistol permit re-certifications

State continues to process pistol permit re-certifications

SAFE Act still being challenged
State continues to process pistol permit re-certifications
A man protests against the SAFE Act in Saratoga Springs in 2013.
Photographer: Gazette file photo

CAPITAL REGION -- Nearly 30,000 Capital Region pistol permit holders have re-certified their permits under the NY SAFE Act, as gun advocates continue to challenge the requirement.

New Yorkers with pistol permits issued before January 2013 were required to re-certify their permits by Jan. 31 under a provision of the SAFE Act. The law was enacted in January 2013 in response to the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. That shooting claimed 26 lives, 20 of them children, and involved a gun modeled after the AR-15.

Some gun owners have balked at the re-certification requirement, even as the deadline to comply with it has passed.

But more than 314,000 permit holders statewide did re-certify as of early March, a state police spokesman said. Just over 30,000 have re-certified in the Capital Region. The state doesn't have an accurate number of permit holders who were required to re-certify by the deadline.

"Since the main benefit of re-certification is more accurate records, we are continuing to accept late certifications," spokesman Beau Duffy said in a prepared statement. "We continue to process submitted re-certifications, including paper forms, which must be entered into the system manually."

The process is expected to take up to a year. Once complete, the state will provide the data to local licensing offices. 

"Since compliance is the goal, state police will not take criminal enforcement action against those permit holders who have unknowingly failed to re-certify," Duffy said. "It is impossible to enforce until all of the re-certifications have been processed."

The re-certification effort comes as the number of permit holders surged in recent years, according to local county clerks' officials. Those who obtained their pistol permits after January of 2013 are required to re-certify every five years after the issue date of their permits.

Schenectady County saw 1,019 new applications in 2017 and 1,144 in 2016. In a stretch from 2006 to 2011, the county never saw more than 352 new applications in any given year, according to the Schenectady County Clerk's Office.

Saratoga County saw 50 new applications in January, down from 90 in January 2017. A total of 1,750 permits were issued countywide in 2017, up from 1,300 in 2016.

Schenectady County Clerk John Woodward didn't point to a single reason for the increases but said concerns over the SAFE Act and other changes have added to the numbers.

"I think it's a combination of enacting the SAFE Act and demographic changes; more women are getting permits," Woodward said.

The re-certification provision also follows a registration provision in the initial law concerning assault weapons. The act banned the sale or purchase of those firearms but allowed continued possession of guns already owned by residents. With that came a registration requirement. More than 44,000 assault-style rifles were registered by the 2014 deadline (to 23,000 owners). Of those, 3,100 were registered in the Capital Region.

The run-up to the January deadline for permit re-certifications left county clerks' offices busy with paper work, as they updated permit information, including addresses. Saratoga County Clerk Craig Hayner said his office had to dedicate more people to the task. Sheriff's offices had to assign extra time for staff to go through the re-certifications that came in and that continued to arrive after the deadline for pre-2013 permit holders, Saratoga County Sheriff Michael Zurlo said.

Despite the re-certifications, how many of the total permit holders required to re-certify have done so was unclear, as the total number of permits out there isn't fully known. The number is uncertain because older permits may not have been updated in the event of death or relocation to other states.

Hayner estimated there are as many as 21,500 permits issued in his county. Of those, 7,863 have re-certified under the SAFE Act. It was unclear how many of the total permit holders were required to re-certify in January.

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