This was the front page lead story of my home-town paper this morning.

New kind of 'arms race': Pace of pistol permit applications quickens - The Daily Freeman News: Serving the Hudson Valley since 1871(

WHEN Jeff Decker turned 25, he applied for — and was granted — the right to carry a gun.

“I did it to celebrate my right as an American citizen,” the Kingston resident explained. “When I turned 25, I started thinking about it, and it seemed like the appropriate thing to do.”

DECKER, who said he doesn’t actually own a handgun, is one of a growing number of people across the region and the country becoming licensed to carry such a weapon.

And while Decker said he decided to get a license to carry a concealed weapon as an exercise of his constitutional right to bear arms, many observers are drawing a correlation between the election of President Barack Obama and a rise in the number of people seeking pistol permits.

Between Jan. 1 and June 15, 2009, there were 194 pistol permits issued in Ulster County, a 15.5 percent increase over the 168 issued during the same period in 2008.

In Dutchess County, the number of pistol permits issued increased by 19.2 percent — 260 issued in the first six months of 2008 to 310 issued through June 15, 2009.

Greene County issued 76 pistol permits between Jan. 1 and June 15, shy of the 90 issued between Jan. 1 and June 15, 2008.

“WE ARE inundated with requests for applications,” said Dutchess County Sheriff’s Capt. Gerard Lennon, adding that his office is scheduling appointments for December for residents to present their applications.

“In 15 years, our office has gone from two people to four, and I need more help,” Lennon said.

In 2007, the pistol permit division of the Dutchess County Sheriff’s Office received 696 applications; in 2008, that number jumped to 741. So far this year, the department has received 524 applications, a 22.7 percent increase of 97 applications over the same period last year.

Ulster County Chief Civil Officer Don Ryan said the situation is similar in Ulster County, where there was a 27.4 percent increase in pistol permit applications in the first five months of the year. “From January to May 2008 we took in 212 applications. From January to May 2009 we took applications of 270,” he said.

Although a county judge ultimately approves gun license requests, all applications are processed by county sheriff’s offices.

“WE’RE SEEING an uptick nationally in both gun sales and conceal/carry permit applications,” said Larry Pratt, executive director of Gun Owners of America, a Virginia-based lobby group that bills itself as “the only no-compromise gun lobby in Washington.”

“Florida is actually bringing on additional personnel to handle the conceal/carry applications, and from anecdotal reports around the country, both the sale of guns and ammunition have gone through the roof since the (presidential election),” Pratt added.

“People are very concerned that Obama, with his record for support for gun bans, is going to try to do that at a national level, and they’re getting their guns and ammunition while they can,” he said.

Ryan agreed.

“I think some of (the increase) has to do with the change in administration,” the Ulster County civil officer said. “There is some apprehension that this administration will move to limit people’s rights to own guns. We saw this under the presidency of Bill Clinton also.”

The Democratic Party, to which Obama and Clinton both belong, traditionally favor stricter gun controls than Republicans.

PETER Hamm, communications director for the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, attributed the increase in permit applications to a well-funded campaign by the National Rifle Association and other pro-gun groups to whip up “the die-hard gun owners” and those “paranoid” about the government into going out and buying guns.

“The gun extremists spent $10 million during the presidential race last year spreading ludicrous rhetoric about President Obama being someone who would ... go door to door taking everybody’s guns away,” Hamm said. “It was a lie, it was a horrific political distortion of somebody’s record, but they managed to convince some people of that nonsense.”

Hamm’s group is named for James Brady, the former White House press secretary who was shot and seriously wounded during the 1981 assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan.

LENNON, the sheriff’s captain in Dutchess, said many of the people seeking pistol permits in his county cite the political climate and concerns that owning a gun may soon become more difficult, if not impossible.

“From the input I get, the people’s perception is that with the current administration, the political climate will force a change of pistol permit regulations, and they want to be grandfathered in with the authority to carry one,” Lennon said.

“I don’t know what the statistics are, but not everybody’s actually buying guns,” he said. “A lot of people are getting permits so they have it.”

DAVE Budin, the owner of Del-Sports Inc. in Margaretteville, said he has seen a rise in both gun and ammunition sales at his shop. But while he says some people have cited the Obama connection, “I disagree with that.”

Instead, he attributes the jump in pistol permits and gun sales more to bills now pending in the state Legislature that would, among other things, ban semi-automatic weapons that make up the majority of handguns sold.

“Consequently, everybody is purchasing handguns,” Budin said.

The state Assembly has passed several bills that would tighten gun ownership laws, but there are, at present, no companion bills in the state Senate.

DECKER SAID that while the proposed state legislation and Obama’s election didn’t “necessarily” play into his decision to get a pistol permit, the fact that he is constitutionally entitled to own a weapon did.

Other Ulster County residents interviewed offered varying reasons for getting pistol permits now, but none said their decision was tied directly to Obama’s election.

Micki Fischang of Kingston said her 24-year-old daughter Jodi, was the latest in a long line of family members to get a pistol permit.

“It’s kind of a family thing,” she said.

Pistol permits not difficult to get in New York state

KINGSTON — Unlike some states, where owning a handgun is as simple as walking into a gun shop and plunking down some cash, handgun ownership in New York can only be granted by a judge.

Even so, obtaining a pistol permit, while time-consuming, is easier than one might think.

Under New York state law, a license may be granted to anyone of “good moral character” who is over 21 and has not been convicted of a “serious offense” or suffered a mental illness.

The law also requires the applicant be a U.S. citizen and, for at least six months, a resident of the county where the application is made.

Besides meeting those criteria, applicants must complete a 12-page form available from their local county sheriff’s office.

On the application, persons seeking a pistol permit are asked why they want permission to own a handgun and a series of questions designed to help the licensing official determine whether the applicant is of good moral character.

Additionally, applicants must provide sworn statements from four people attesting to their character.

The sheriff’s office will photograph and fingerprint the applicant, and, if everything checks out, recommend a county court judge issue the permit.

In Ulster County, the cost is $10 for the photograph and $105.25 to process the fingerprints. In some counties, including Ulster, applicants also are required to complete a pre-licensing gun safety course before obtaining a pistol permit.

In Dutchess County, the cost is $130.25, which includes a $20 application/photograph fee.

A pistol license issued by any county outside of New York City is valid anywhere in the state, outside of several major cities, including New York. Pistol licenses are valid without the need for renewal, though there is a movement by some state lawmakers to require licenses to be renewed every five years.

Although applicants are offered three types of licenses – one to carry a concealed weapon, one to possess a weapon at home or at the applicant’s place of employment, and one to carry a weapon while employed — the vast majority of licenses issued in Dutchess and Ulster counties are the conceal/carry variety, which gives the holder the right to carry a concealed weapon at any time and any place.

According to the Dutchess County Sheriff’s Office, there were 741 applications submitted by county residents for gun permits in 2008. County judges approved 691 of those applications. So far this year, 524 applications have been submitted and 381 permits have been issued.

While the idea that there could be hundreds, if not thousands, of armed people walking around Ulster County on any given day might be a cause of concern to some, county Sheriff Paul Van Blarcum isn’t worried.

“We don’t hardly have any problems with legal handguns,” Van Blarcum said. ”I’ve been a cop for 33 years and never had a problem.”

In fact, Van Blarcum said, about the only change he would make to the current licensing system would be to make the Sheriff’s Office the licensing agent.

“I just think it would streamline the process,” he said. “I don’t think the decisions would be different — the judges make great decisions — I just think it would be better, since we do all the investigative work anyway, if we issued the licenses.”