New York Background Check and Gun Laws
New York State, by many measures, is practically the strictest state in the nation as far as the procedure for obtaining a handgun (pistol) carry license is concerned. However, unlike many of the other extremely strict states (such as New Jersey or Maryland), once a New York State pistol license is obtained (with varying degrees of difficulty depending on the jurisdiction the licensee resides in), the restrictions on carrying handguns vary greatly jurisdiction to jurisdiction.
Handgun possession in New York State is strictly limited to allow only those individuals who hold a current, valid, handgun license (pistol license) issued by a jurisdiction (county or major city) within New York State to purchase, possess or carry a handgun within New York State (NY Penal law 265.01). New York State pistol licenses are not issued to out-of-state residents (or even part-time New York State residents), and no licensing reciprocity agreements with any other states exist. There are no provisions whatsoever for an out-of-state handgun owner (other than law enforcement/military) to carry a handgun in New York State. Some states will recognize NY's handgun license.
Simply traveling through New York State while in possession of any handgun, for any purpose, without a New York State pistol license, is legally risky. New York State law does include a very limited exception for passing through the state for target competition purposes, but the language is exceptionally strict. NY Penal law, 265.20 Exemptions, Section 12 allows travel "by a person who is a member or coach of an accredited college or university target pistol team" … and Section 13 allows travel "while attending or traveling to or from, an organized competitive pistol match or league competition under auspices of, or approved by, the National Rifle Association and in which he is a competitor, within forty-eight hours of such event or by a person who is a non-resident of the state while attending or traveling to or from an organized match sanctioned by the International Handgun Metallic Silhouette Association and in which he is a competitor, within forty-eight hours of such event," … Federal law 18 USC 926A entitles a person to transport a firearm however people have been arrested for having an unregistered handgun when flying out of NY airports. Traveling through New York City, even with a license issued from another jurisdiction within New York State, must be done carefully (locked box, in vehicle's trunk, no unnecessary stops).
Application for a handgun license is through the individual's county (or major city) of primary residence, usually the police/sheriff's department, or a separate licensing authority (i.e. the "Pistol Clerk"). After initial approval on the county level, the application is then passed on to the New York State Police for further approval. The applicant will be required to ask close friends or associates to act as personal references, these individuals may be required to fill out forms, that vary in length by county, attesting to the applicant's good character. Pistol licenses can take from less than four months for approval to more than six months, but NY law only allows six months to process a license. There is no "shall-issue" provision in New York State pistol licensing law.
Pistol licenses are generally of two types, carry or premises-only (premises-only is the most common license issued in New York City) issued under NY Penal Law 400. Restrictions can be placed on either type of license, for example, a number of jurisdictions allow handgun license holders to carry handguns only while in the field hunting (ie. sportsman's license) and/or traveling to and from the range (ie. target license). These restrictions, however, are administrative in nature; carrying a licensed, registered handgun outside of the restrictions indicated on a Carry License should result in administrative (suspension, revocation) penalties only.
All handguns possessed within New York State (except antiques or replicas of antiques) must be registered, with each handgun's registration indicated on the licensee's pistol license. All handguns, including antiques and replicas, must be registered in order to be legally loaded and fired. Some counties limit who can register a handgun on their license with some allowing cross registration of a handgun from any other licensee to licensed family members only to no handgun can be cross registered. NY law does not address this issue. Sharing use of a handgun not listed on your license is only allowed at a certified range with the licensed handgun owner being present. (See NY PL 265.20 7-a) A pistol license is required to physically examine a handgun for purchase at a gun store or gun show. A separate purchase document is required for each handgun purchase that is obtained by filing an amendment with the local authority.
In addition to laws pertaining to the entire state of New York, there are additional laws and statutes pertaining to licensing and permits in some of the major cities of the state; any city with a population of over 100,000 is allowed to pass additional laws. Cities with stricter laws include Albany, Buffalo, Rochester and New York City.
The cost and renewal of handgun licenses vary from county to county. Importantly, concealed carry handgun licenses issued in New York City are valid in the rest of the state, however premises-only licenses are not valid in the rest of the state. All Concealed carry licenses issued outside of New York City are valid throughout New York State except New York City.
Restrictions on New York State handgun licenses vary greatly from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. For example, it is practically impossible to be issued a carry pistol license in New York City, unless the license applicant is a celebrity or employed in the security industry. Most licenses issued in New York City are for on-premises possession only, carrying to and from the range must utilize a "locked-box". Periodic renewal fees even on restricted carry licenses like NY City's $340 for a 3 year license, are highly prohibitive as well. Nassau, Suffolk, Westchester and several other suburban counties are only slightly less prohibitive, allowing a highly restricted "to and from the range only" form of concealed carry.
In contrast to "practically no carry" New York City, and some county judges who only issue "to and from target shooting, hunting and fishing" licenses, many upstate New York counties issue "unrestricted" handgun licenses that allow unrestricted concealed carry of a loaded handgun (except for important exceptions such as schools, court houses/rooms, secure areas of airports). Some of the most rural upstate counties (such as Delaware County) specifically do not enforce the vague "concealed" language in New York State's licensing law, thereby effectively allowing open carry.
Paradoxically, except for visiting New York City (which effectively invalidates any non-NYC carry license), the restrictions (or lack thereof) as they appear on the license stay with the license as the individual travels from county to county within the state. For example, the holder of a Delaware County pistol license (unrestricted carry) can carry his concealed handgun into a restaurant in Suffolk County, while his Suffolk County friend cannot. Most counties in NY issue "lifetime" licenses: PL400.00 – 10. License: expiration, certification and renewal. Elsewhere than in the City of New York and the counties of Nassau, Suffolk and Westchester, any license to carry or possess a pistol or revolver, …, shall be in force and effect until revoked as herein provided. Renewable licenses last from the 3 year NY City's license to 5 years in other counties with NY Cities license costing $340 every 3 years.
This dichotomy in New York State handgun license policies (upstate rural/downstate urban) is an outgrowth of three specific cultural forces; the strength of home rule in New York State, the prevalence of conservative political forces upstate, as well as the gun culture during the various hunting seasons in the rural counties. Not all of the most pro-gun counties of New York are particularly far from New York City either, many a tourist getting away from New York City for a weekend trip to the country has been quite surprised at the prevalence of openly carried firearms of all types only several hours from home.
Rifles and shotguns do not have to be registered in any jurisdiction within New York State except for New York City, which requires registration. Laws pertaining to the handling of rifles and shotguns are in sharp contrast to those of handguns. For example, licensed carry of a handgun on one's person allows the handgun to be fully loaded, including within an automobile, while visiting a place of business or while crossing a public road while hunting. A rifle or shotgun cannot be kept loaded in any of the above circumstances except for a self defense emergency. A range officer would not normally take exception to a target shooter driving to the range and entering the parking lot carrying a licensed, loaded, holstered handgun; doing so with a loaded rifle or shotgun would cause quite a stir.
Most handgun licenses are issued under 3 sections of NY PENal law 400 section 2:
(a) have and possess in his dwelling by a householder; (b) have and possess in his place of business by a merchant or storekeeper; … (f) have and carry concealed, without regard to employment or place of possession, by any person when proper cause exists for the issuance thereof;
Section 2 f (above) is the section of NY law that most people are issued a handgun license under including the made up, "Sportsman's license" that some counties call their restricted license. This section only allows "have and carry concealed" so open carry in NY State is not allowed however some police departments in some counties may choose to ignore someone who does open carry.
NY PENal law: 265.20 section 7-e allows for youth between 14 and 21, inclusive, to shoot a handgun at a range as long as several simple requirements are met.
New York State is a particularly interesting case, because New York separates all of New England from the bulk of the United States. This means that under the Firearm Owners Protection Act, all people traveling through New York City and New York state with firearms must have them unloaded and locked in a hard case where they are not readily accessible (e.g. in the trunk of a vehicle) and can never be in possession of a high capacity feeding device made post ban.
New York State has a ban that is an almost exact mirror of the Federal Assault Weapons Ban, except that it does not have a sunset provision.
Most of New York State gun laws are covered in two sections of New York Penal law. Article 265 – (265.00 – 265.40) FIREARMS AND OTHER DANGEROUS WEAPONS; Weapons Crimes, Firearms and Other Dangerous Weapons, list definitions and legal violations. This sections includes the banning of possession of a handgun, ("firearm" under definition 3,) by anyone in New York State. Section 265.20 includes exemptions to the handgun ban including to those who have a license issued under Article 400 – (400.00 – 400.10) LICENSING AND OTHER PROVISIONS RELATING TO FIREARMS; Licenses to Carry, Possess, Hunting and Target, Repair and Dispose of Firearms.
New York State requires that anyone buying a gun at a gunshow must have a background check done.