|Bad Driver? In Debt? Proposed NYC Law Would Ban You From
Owning a Gun
| October 26, 2010
New York City residents who want to own a gun may soon be denied permits if they are litterbugs, if they are bad drivers, or if they have fallen behind on a few bills.
Under proposed revisions to the police department's handgun, rifle and shotgun permit procedures, the NYPD can reject gun license applicants for a number of reasons, including:
If they have been arrested or convicted of almost any "violation," in any state; having a "poor driving history"; having been fired for "circumstances that demonstrate lack of good judgment"; having "failed to pay legally required debts"; being deemed to lack "good moral character"; or if any other information demonstrates "other good cause for the denial of the permit."
Critics say many of the restrictions are vague, have nothing to do with one's fitness to own a gun and are unconstitutional.
Supporters say the new restrictions will make gun purchasing more efficient and don't give the NYPD any more power than it already has.
According to a Report of the Governmental Affairs Division, the changes came about as the result of two recent Supreme Court decisions.
"In District of Columbia v. Heller the Court found that a District of Columbia law banning the possession of handguns in the home was invalid due to the rights conferred by the Second Amendment; in McDonald v. City of Chicago, Ill., the Court applied that right equally to the States," the report says.
As result, Councilman Peter F. Vallone Jr., chairman of the Public Safety Committee, introduced a proposal to lower the city's fees for gun permits to ones that more accurately reflect what the city spends to issue them.
"Now the fees are going to be much less and they're going to have a relationship to the amount of administrative costs that are involved, and in that way it will withstand the Constitution and the court challenge that most people expect will be coming down the road," Vallone told FoxNews.com.
The current $340 fee for all pistol licenses would be lowered to $70 for a premises license and $110 for a carry license. Rifle and shotgun permits would drop from $140 to $65. Costs for license renewals would also be significantly reduced.
With the lower fees, the New York Police Department also introduced revisions to the police department's gun permit procedures, which, unlike Vallone's bill, need only approval from the mayor's office, not the City Council.
"Although I do have oversight capability and I can have a hearing on it, I don't have any formal say in it," Vallone said.
Councilmember Dan Halloran says those revisions are intended to give the police more power to deny licenses, which could counter a possible spike in gun ownership triggered by the lower fees.
But Halloran and Vallone say the proposed restrictions give the NYPD so much authority that they violate the Second Amendment.
"The disqualification categories are downright scary. They're completely open to interpretation and they really don't measure anybody's fitness to own a gun," Halloran told FoxNews.com.
He pointed to a restriction stating applicants can be denied if they've "been arrested, indicted or convicted for a crime or violation, except minor traffic violations."
"So now the city can deny a permit for a building code violation, a sanitation ticket for failing to sweep the sidewalk … an array of non-criminal acts," Halloran said.
Another troublesome restriction, Halloran said, is one that allows permit denial if "the applicant has failed to pay legally required debts such as child support, taxes, fines or penalties imposed by governmental authorities."
"So people who are in foreclosure, or have credit card judgments, maybe filed bankruptcy, can now be legally denied," he said.
Applicants can also be denied, under the new restrictions, if they've "been terminated from employment under circumstances that demonstrate lack of good judgment or lack of good moral character."
"It seems to me it's more of an application to be pope than to be a gun owner," Vallone said. "I don't know anyone who would pass this thing. Anyone who has ever tried marijuana or has a bad driving history, lost a job regarding a lack of judgment – those are ridiculous criteria for gun ownership."
But Jason Post, a spokesman for Mayor Michael Bloomberg's office, said nothing in the proposal gives police a power they don't already have.
"The revisions will make the application process more efficient and give more clarity to applicants for gun licenses," Post told FoxNews.com in an e-mail.
Paul Helmke, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, agreed, saying the changes appear to be a "fleshing out" of existing gun restrictions, and not an expansion of them.
"I think it's a good faith attempt by New York City authorities to make sure that their restrictions comply with the Constitution standards that the Supreme Court's adopted over the last two years," he told FoxNews.com.
While some restrictions, like paying legally required debts, may seem irrelevant to critics, Helmke says they are not.
"Child support, taxes, fines and governmental penalties I think are legitimate things. Basically, if someone's not complying with what the government requires of somebody, that's usually a sign that you can't trust them to follow the rules with something like a gun," he said.
As for whether the rule could apply to failure to pay a cable TV bill, as Halloran implied, Helmke said, "I think he's stretching it there."
Halloran said the biggest problem is that the rules are open to that kind of interpretation, and he pointed to the clause that reads that applicants can be denied for failure "to provide information requested by the License Division or required by this chapter" or "other information demonstrates an unwillingness to abide by the law, a lack of candor towards lawful authorities, a lack of concern for the safety of oneself and/or other persons and/or for public safety, and/or other good cause for the denial of the license," as the most obvious example.
"Could this be any more vague and open ended?" he asked. "Ask yourself, would any other constitutional right be subject to such vagaries? Imagine these requirements put to be eligible to vote, to have a lawyer, to be secure in your person or possessions, your right to a jury."
Former federal prosecutor and constitutional law expert Douglas Burns said that while the Heller and McDonald cases allow guns to be regulated closely, New York's proposal has some legal issues.
"If left unchanged, I think there could be some problems in court with it," Burns told FoxNews.com in an e-mail.
With a few adjustments, though, the proposal could be made to stand up in court, he said.
"I think like any proposed amendments, it has to be fine-tuned -- you can't leave in "violations other than traffic" because under NYS law a violation is not a criminal offense, so I think that's a problem. Also, as I said, the debt payment and job-firing language has to be fine-tuned; it is too broad.... I think the legislator does raise some valid concerns."
The council is due to vote on the price changes, which are expected to pass, and to advise the police department on the restriction changes Wednesday.
Should the department decide to go forward with the proposed changes, Vallone says he is "seriously considering having an oversight hearing on this topic"
The NYPD did not respond to a request for comment.