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Priced out? Counties issuing fewer pistol permits as new regulations increase costs to apply

A man fires a gun at a target. A shell casing is seen above the gun.
Max Schulte
/
WXXI News
David Jenkins takes aim and fires his pistol at a target while shooting at a range in Wayne County. Jenkins runs Rochester Personal Defense, one of several area businesses certified to educate would-be gun owners about gun safety and firearms training now mandated by the state.

Pistol permit applications in Monroe County are down by more than half so far this year and nearby counties are seeing a similar drop.

Officials suspect the falloff stems from changes in state law making it harder for would-be handgun owners to obtain a permit and buy a firearm. Included in the new rules is a requirement for hours of safety training that has been expensive and, until recently, in short supply.

“Yeah, it's been four months. Four months to get a class in Rochester,” said Henry Williard, a retired firefighter living in Webster.

That was back in March. Willard completed the two-day training later that month and submitted his application in late April. Now, he waits.

Willard is one of 267 Monroe County residents to submit a pistol permit application so far this year. More than 700 had applied at this time last year, and at this point in 2021, the County Clerk’s office already had taken in 1,600 applications.

Numbers typically spike whenever a Democrat enters the White House. Pent-up demand and a backlog of paperwork from the pandemic shutdown added to the jump in 2021.

Elsewhere:

  • Livingston County had issued 76 pistol permits as of May 1 — by far the lowest in recent years and a drop from the 95 it issued at the same point last year. 
  • Wyoming County approved just 25 pistol permit applications in the same period, and is on pace to fall well short of the 300 permits it has issued annually in recent years. 
  • Yates County issued fewer than 100 pistol permits so far this year — down 25% from the 130 issued a year ago. 

“I've been meaning to do it for a long time and just never got around to it,” Willard said. “And now it's finally time to do it. Because I think the state and the government's getting a little crazy on the requirements.”

New rules for pistol permits

Initially, there was some confusion about the training, where to get it, what was required. Then came the rush that booked out courses for months — with prices ranging from $350 to $800. Willard paid $450.

“It was crazy,” said David Jenkins, founder and director of training with Rochester Personal Defense, which is among those offering the required training course. "We couldn't have enough slots and classes in October, November and December. We were surprised. December's usually dead. January's usually dead. But they've been probably our best months in four or five years.”

He continued: “As an educator, I love it. ... But as a constitutionalist-minded person, I don't like it. I don't think they should have to. It's the only right that we have to prove that we can exercise.”

A profile-style photo of a man  wearing a baseball cap and glasses. He has a logo for the Rochester Personal Defense business on his shirt. (A red lion)
Max Schulte
/
WXXI News
David Jenkins at a range in Wayne County where he regularly shoots and trains students. Jenkins runs Rochester Personal Defense, one of several area businesses certified to educate would-be gun owners about gun safety and firearms training now mandated by the state.

In addition to 18 hours of classroom and live-fire training, the state now requires applicants to provide four character witnesses, a list of past and present social media accounts, and to sit for an in-person interview with a judge and get gun safes for their home and vehicle.

“Every week, we probably get 10 or 12 phone calls with people who can't afford it, or can't do it in their busy schedules because they're now working two and three jobs,” Jenkins said. “You know, I'm waiting for the class action lawsuit — for people who can't afford to do it; can't afford ... to exercise their Second Amendment rights.”

Some neighboring counties had already been requiring some level of safety training before this. Monroe County had not, though judges were known to order it, even to require gun safes.

No fewer guns

In Monroe County, applications are down 71% among city residents; 59% among suburbanites. County Clerk Jamie Romeo shares the concern about what’s behind the drop.

“I think the financial cost is becoming more of a barrier than people are taking about,” she said.

When Jenkins surveyed graduates of his program about whether they had submitted their application, he found many had not. Some responded they were waiting for references, some to have the money to move forward. Some were just waiting.

“So there's more people out there that just haven't filed yet,” he said.

Bullets and a pistol sit on a picnic table in the foreground, a man in the background of the photo is setting up a shooting target.
Max Schulte
/
WXXI News
David Jenkins sets up a paper target while shooting at a range in Wayne County. Jenkins runs Rochester Personal Defense, one of several area businesses certified to educate would-be gun owners about gun safety and firearms training now mandated by the state.

All this doesn’t mean there are fewer guns.

“The number of weapons being added to existing permits has really stayed the same,” Romeo said.

Whenever weapons are added to an existing permit it is recorded as an amendment. Other things triggering an amending include removing a weapon, a name or address change or transferring to another county. Romeo said officials estimate 75% are new weapons.

Monroe County has thus far recorded 3,870 amendments, which is the exact average of the prior two years for the same period.

Livingston County, by contrast, has seen a 27% increase with 1,000 amendments so far in what is certain to be a record year.

Brian Sharp is WXXI's investigations and enterprise editor. He also reports on business and development in the area. He has been covering Rochester since 2005. His journalism career spans nearly three decades.