New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg made waves recently when he announced plans to streamline the city's gun licensing process. The news marked an unexpected shift for Mayor Bloomberg, whose aggressive gun control efforts in the past have earned him a national reputation for being tough on guns. The city's existing licensing laws are among the most restrictive in the country, and are often criticized by gun rights groups.
Goals: Efficiency and Transparency
City Hall officials say that many of the changes are geared toward promoting efficiency in the application process. Their aim is to grant permits more quickly to qualified applicants, while allowing for more thorough investigation of those who might not meet licensing eligibility standards. Among others, these changes include reducing the number of in-person visits that each applicant must make to the licensing office, adding evening hours to the schedule and expanding payment options.
A press release from the Mayor's office reports that the average processing time for handgun permit applications has already been cut nearly in half, dropping from 20 weeks in 2007 to 11 weeks in 2009. State law allows the NYPD a maximum of six months to complete the application review process.
Another goal behind the changes is increased transparency in the application review process. The new provisions will supplement some of the more subjective licensing requirements with specific examples meant to guide licensing officials in determining an applicant's eligibility. Existing New York state law allows gun permits to be issued only to individuals with "good moral character," and requires that denial of an application be justified by "good cause."
The changes also include a proposal to define a new misdemeanor, making it a crime in the city to carry a gun while intoxicated. Intoxication would be defined by the same legal standard used for driving while intoxicated, and a conviction would be punishable by imprisonment of up to one year.
Criticism from Gun Rights Advocates
Critics of the new provisions claim they are merely empty measures meant to create the appearance of change while leaving the obstacles to legal gun ownership largely in place. While the plan involves alterations to many elements of the licensing process, detractors point to the aspects of the process that remain unchanged. Steep application and renewal fees remain a major source of criticism; a new applicant must pay $340 plus a $94 fingerprinting fee. Additionally, the city still has only one licensing office, which each applicant must visit in person.
Ilya Shapiro, a constitutional scholar at the libertarian Cato Institute, told the New York Times: "If the underlying regulations make it hard for someone to qualify for owning a gun, then simplifying the process is an empty action." Some critics believe that the Mayor's changes are an attempt to preempt a legal challenge to the city's gun laws on Second Amendment grounds. A similar lawsuit challenged laws in Washington, D.C., in 2008, and another is currently underway in Chicago.