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Handgun Permitting Process Debated By Lawmakers, Police Chiefs

by Christine Stuart | Feb 5, 2013 7:00am
(9) Comments | Commenting has expired
Posted to: Civil Liberties, Town News, Hartford, New Haven, Newtown, Law Enforcement, Legal, Public Safety, State Capitol

Christine Stuart file photo

South Windsor Police Chief Matt Reed and Cromwell Police Chief Anthony Salvatore

If you’ve never had your handgun or pistol permit denied by your local police chief, you probably aren’t aware of the state Board of Firearm Permit Examiners.

In Connecticut, obtaining a permit to carry a handgun is a two-step process. First, you must apply with your local police chief or resident state trooper. The application process includes fingerprinting, a background check, and a questionnaire. The local police chief or resident state trooper has eight weeks to either approve or deny the application.

If the application is denied, then the individual can appeal to the Board of Firearm Permit Examiners.

But local police chiefs have recently expressed reservations about the seven-member board, which some feel may not be taking the decisions of the police chiefs seriously enough.

Cromwell Police Chief Anthony Salvatore said he’s been successful both times he’s been before the board, but his colleagues in the Connecticut Police Chief’s Association have expressed concern.

“There are other police chiefs who haven’t done as well as I have,” Salvatore said. “But every case is different.”

Unlike in big cities where the responsibility of reviewing permit applications and background information often is done by detectives, Salvatore said he is the deciding authority in his community.

“I personally review them, but by the time it gets to my desk our staff has located any state records, checked the FBI database, and sometimes have re-interviewed individuals to clear up any discrepancies,” Salvatore said.

South Windsor Police Chief Matthew Reed told the legislature’s gun task force Monday that a lot of police chiefs get upset when their decisions are overturned by the board.

“They feel they are making decisions that they think are best held at the local level,” Reed said.

The police chiefs are supporting legislation proposed by Sen. Majority Leader Martin Looney, who is calling for the elimination of the Board of Firearm Permit Examiners.

“Sometimes it tilts too much toward issuing permits,” Looney said. “I think it should be eliminated or substantially changed.”

Over the last two years, 660 appeals came before the board. Of those, 346 appeals ended with permits being issued in favor of the appellants while 314 ended in permits being denied in favor of the issuing authorities.

But Reed said he doesn’t know if eliminating the board is the best option. He said that when the chiefs have to defend their decisions in front of the board, a lot of the discussion boils down to a vague definition of “suitability” for the permit in the state statute.

Reed said there may be information in an application that the police chief would like to use in making a decision. But because of privacy laws, police chiefs aren’t allowed to ask for things like employment, school, or health records.

That’s why the chiefs also are recommending broadening the definition of “suitability” because, up until now, if a chief demands the release of employment or school records an individual can deny them that information.

The chiefs also told the committee that the only time mental health information shows up on the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System is when a person is involuntarily committed through the probate court system. If a person voluntarily commits themselves to seek mental health treatment and then applies for a gun permit, there’s a good chance the police chief approving the permit will never know about the voluntary commitment, Reed said.

He said much of the application process relies upon the applicant self-reporting the information.

Reed said a person recently called to tell him one of their co-workers was walking around with a target talking about how he plans on getting his gun permit. Reed found out where the person lived and called the police chief in that town to warn them the person may have voluntarily sought mental health treatment. The chief called and the applicant admitted he had received treatment and withdrew his application.

The police chief in that town “had no idea there had been any psychological history behind it,” Reed said. “How perfect was the timing to say here are the kinds of folks who can slip through the system? So now you asked the question: How do we figure out that information?”

“I don’t know,” Reed said.

What if police chiefs were publish the names of individuals applying for permits?

“So that the public could actually help the police vet some of the candidates,” Reed suggested. “I think we all know people in our lives who probably shouldn’t have guns.”

Rep. Rosa Rebimbas, R-Naugatuck, said she didn’t think that was such a good idea because people could manipulate the system and try to get people into trouble. She said that already happens with the Department of Children and Families.

She wondered if there was anything on the application regarding mental health status.

“Have you been confined in a hospital for mental illness in the past 12 months by order of a probate court?” the application reads.

But Salvatore warned that they also don’t want to stigmatize people who seek mental health treatment. He said disclosing that information should not automatically mean a person is denied a gun permit.

Christine Stuart file photo

Craig Fishbein, a member of the Board of Firearm Permit Examiners

Craig Fishbein, a Wallingford attorney who is one of the seven members of the Board of Firearm Permit Examiners, said he doesn’t believe the board arbitrarily denies the police chiefs’ appeals. He said that it is often the case that more information becomes available and many times the chief ends up granting the application before the board even gets a chance to hear it.

He said Looney’s legislation ignores the fact that if the police chief believes the board made the wrong decision it can appeal it to Superior Court.

“Part of the issue there is cost,” Looney said.

In these tight fiscal times, municipalities may not want to be using their resources to appeal gun permits. But Fishbein says that ignores the reality that municipalities can appeal to Superior Court, just like the appellant can if they feel they were wrongly denied by the board.

As for leniency, Fishbein said the board recently denied an applicant a permit because of an incident that happened 13 years ago. He said the incident was “distressing” enough to lead to the board to deny the permit even though it had occurred so long ago.

There are other checks and balances in the system already.

Fishbein said a police chief can even go to a judge and get a warrant to seize a firearm from an individual who has not committed any crimes, but who is displaying signs they may have become mentally unstable.

According to a 2009 Office of Legislative Research report, police departments applied for 277 court warrants and seized more than 2,000 guns from October 1999 to May 2009.

“It’s proof we have a system in place that is working at some level,” Fishbein said.

He said allowing the appeals to be heard directly by the courts would bog down an already overburdened judicial system.

But Looney, who lives in a community where handguns are a bigger problem than assault weapons, believe something needs to be done.

“If it is to be preserved I think we should take a fresh look at who should be on it,” Looney said, referring to the members of the board.

According to state statute, the seven board members are appointed by the governor. Five of the seven are nominated by the Commissioner of Public Safety, the Connecticut Police Chiefs Association, the Commissioner of Environmental Protection, the Connecticut State Rifle and Revolver Association Inc., and a group called Ye Connecticut Gun Guild Inc. The other two seats are members of the public and at least one member of the Board “shall be a lawyer licensed to practice in Connecticut, who shall act as Chairman of the Board during the hearing of appeals.”

Looney and other lawmakers have suggested adding a mental health professional or changing the basic makeup of the board.

In Connecticut, only handguns and pistols require permits. Long guns and rifles do not require permits, but without a hunting permit there could be up to a two-week wait to purchase one.

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(9) Comments

posted by: Noteworthy | February 5, 2013  8:44am

The police chiefs get upset when their decision on a gun permit is denied? OMG! Come to think of it, so does my daughter when I tell her to pack up her IPOD at night and go to bed.

Contrary to what Martin Looney alleges, clearly without much basis, is that the review board does in fact work - a third are overturned; a third withdrawn or settled; and a third are upheld.

School and employment records are immaterial to a gun permit; and the only medical record needed is mental healthcare records and even then, only as they relate to the possibility somebody may hurt themselves or others. The desire for this information is entirely invasive and unnecessary. It also has absolutely nothing to do with the Newtown killings nor will it prevent it “from ever happening again.”

While Looney lives in a town where gun violence is common - it is not coming from people who trouble themselves to go through the expense and trouble of getting a gun permit in New Haven. The problem is found in the gangs and thugs in West River, Newhallville, Fair Haven and West Rock. These are chronically poor, crime addled neighborhoods, largely comprised of leading minority groups who have high rates of teenage pregnancy; school dropouts; food, money and housing insecurity; and unemployment. These are neighborhoods and people that clearly Martin Looney isn’t familiar with or he wouldn’t think radically changing the permit review board would have anything to do with either Newtown or the streets of New Haven.

posted by: sparkplug | February 5, 2013  8:57am

The application process that is currently in place is actually VERY thorough compared to just about any other state. The only concern I have with Senator Looney’s proposal (to add a mental health professional to the board) is that without a rigid set of criteria for determining “mental suitability” a good number of law-abiding citizens could be denied a permit based on a “gut feeling” or even a political or social bias. Without a well-defined standard, the permit process could very well become what New York City has now: a system where only the wealthy and politically connected can get a permit.

posted by: dano860 | February 5, 2013  9:16am

...and the problems with regards to firearms lies with the law abiding citizens?
Really?
As the gentleman from Colorado said, don’t rush into any actions just to make it appear that you have done something.
If Mr. Looney lives in an area where handguns are a problem, lets look at who or what is causing the problem. Are they permit holders, are they gang bangers, have they been to a firearms training session, are the drug dealers, are they drug users, are they high school drop outs, do they have a job, are they in college, are they business owners?
Yes they need to revise the policy for receiving permits to carry but that isn’t the largest part of the problem.
Clean up the cities, apply mandatory jail time for illegal possession, cut off food stamps (EBT) and free rent to families of the perpetrators, open more shooting ranges in cities, bring back shooting clubs at schools. Teach respect for firearms. Don’t make them sexy and cool to own by applying more ineffective laws.
Work to get gang members out of gangs and quit glorifying ‘single mothers’.
Don’t be in a rush to ‘fix’ something that you don’t accurately describe. That alone can be misleading. In towns where there are no resident troopers or Chief of Police the First Selectman serves that function. There are many small Connecticut towns in that category.
Know that in Connecticut a ‘permit to carry’ IS NOT a ‘concealed carry’ permit. Police prefer that you don’t display it though. Make it a permit for what it is and that alone will improve the intent.
Publishing names of persons applying for a permit will only drag out the people with grips and axes to grind. It will only create problems for the people responsible for approving or denying the permit.
This would be like the crazy actions that occurred in New York with the newspaper publishing names of permit holders.
Keep your eye on the problem, what will prevent another mass killing? Using the horrific action s a few to punish the many is wrong and most of what is being reviewed and considered will not prevent another such incident.

posted by: AntonK | February 5, 2013  10:02am

Wow, they’re looking at the permitting process. Now what does that have to do with Sandy Hook? Geez, you’d think there were other, pre-existing agendas at work here that are trying to ride on the back of the victims of the Newtown tragedy. Nahhhh! Couldn’t be!

posted by: antman | February 5, 2013  10:18am

With all the trust put into these police officers we need them to be educated. Not just police training. A mandatory college degree. We should not allow anyone to jump on a police force at 20 and collect a pension for the rest of their life. Go down to New Haven and others and deal with some of these officers of the law.

posted by: redman | February 5, 2013  10:49am

Sure let the Nazi police chiefs get the final say.

posted by: Joe Eversole | February 5, 2013  5:25pm

The fact that a Police Chief has any say whatsoever is on it’s face ludicrous.  If the applicant for the permit passes the FBI background check, then the permit should be issued.  Period. Anything else is clearly an infringement of the individuals 2nd Amendment right to keep and bear arms.

posted by: David Streever | February 6, 2013  3:45pm

Noteworthy:
Your daughter is not, so far as I know, trusted with a 120,000+ salary, in possession of 15 or more years of experience, in possession of extensive information and records of misdeeds and criminal behavior of applicants, and most critically, not an adult.

While she may get upset at you putting her to bed, I do not understand how that relates in any way whatsoever to an adult police chief frustrated by being overruled by another adult with no explanation or rationale.

The police chief makes a choice about a local decision with reams of background data, only to find out that a zealous ideologue from outside of their community has overruled them and not bothered to explain what findings consitute the basis for the appeal decision.

That is absolutely a fair case for the police chief to be upset, and perhaps we can all think of ways to modify or improve the system, without being compared to your child.

posted by: lebron | February 7, 2013  10:53am

In response to Mr. Steever,
If the local authority was not using biased and prejudicial requirements for their denial, I’d say you had a point, but alas there have been numerous incidents of denials solely on a persons biased. Many local issuing authorities are asking for additional information that is not required per the State of Connecticut to obtain your permit.  We’ve seen some local issuing authorities, go so far as to ask for skin color, handicap information, medical information, dental information, credit data, three letters of reference, etc.  All of this is NOT required per the State and is just a barrier for those that want to maintain a certain amount of privacy and still obtain a permit. So the person(s) using this extra credit information are also asking the State to abolish the one check and balance that a denied permittee has to counter a overzealous Town official. Remember, Absolute Power corrupts absolutely… Case in point a website has been setup to gauge how different towns are rated.
http://ctpistolpermitissues.com/