Friday, July 26, 2013

Getting a Firearms Permit in New Jersey

Finally got my firearms permits! w00t!

In NJ, it is quite the process, and mine was somewhat exacerbated.

A Little Background/Why I Did It
It all started back in the beginning of April when I decided to pull the trigger (ha ha) and go through the process. It's worth mentioning that I grew up in OK and AR, where gun ownership is no big deal. My first rifle was a gift from my step-dad--a very old, somewhat crusty bolt action .22 cal. I spent a lot of time restoring it, and in the end, it was an effective rifle even without a scope. I guess seeing how I took care of that one led him to give me a newer one that had a scope.

My other family also had guns, mostly rifles and shotguns, and we weren't rabid hunters, but we did hunt sometimes. As a teenager, I took a gun/hunting safety course, in addition to being mentored by my family. I've also spent a fair bit of time at ranges shooting rifles and the occasional handgun.

When I moved to Florida in 2003, I left my rifles with my dad because I didn't expect to need them and thought he could make use of them. Since then, I haven't had a gun, but mostly just because I was busy with other things.

This year, though, the gun debate heated up again, and it got me thinking about it. I also don't live in the safest city in NJ. And I wanted to experience what it is like for a law-abiding citizen to exercise his constitutional right to bear arms in a highly restrictive state like NJ. Together these things foisted me out of my complacency, and I began the journey.

I'm hardly a gun nut, but I am definitely on the "right" side of the issue. I think Larry Correia sums up the reasons why better than I can. (BTW, since I read that, I started listening to his Monster Hunter series--good stuff!)

Step 1 - Figure Out What You Gotta Do
The easiest way is to Google something like "getting a gun in NJ." That ultimately landed me on what I thought would be a reliable source--the state police Web site. I also read up on the actual statutes (not fun reading, as you might expect). I was surprised to learn that to get a permit to carry, you basically have to have evidence that your life is being threatened by, e.g., a stalker, or that you need it for your job. I figure living where I do is justification for me to carry--considering that all the criminals around here do, but hey, I figured I'd save that battle for a different day.

Step 2 - Download and Fill Out the Forms 
So I downloaded and filled out the forms from the state police Web site and called my local PD, who told me to just drop it off.

Step 2.3 - Drop Off Forms in Person
I went to our police HQ (in an even-less-great part of town than I live in) and dropped it off. Next day I get a call from the detective in charge of permits, who says I filled out the main form wrong, was missing a form, and that I needed to type up my application using the editable PDF (the one I had already filled out by hand). He said to come and pick up a "packet" to apply. Then, once I had the packet done, I was to set up an appointment with him to go over them.

Step 2.5 - Pick Up the Forms
So I went back to the HQ, stopped by the desk, and asked for the "gun permit application" package. The lady handed me a package, and I said thanks and left.

Step 2.7 - Fill Out the Forms Again
There were more forms in the packet, including the mental health history form, as well as a handful of other things (like making copies of your DL) to do. I did all that and called the detective back. We set an appointment for Tues at 10a. Great--things are moving along.

Step Minus 1 - Get Appendicitis and Miss Appointment
Unfortunately, the Sunday (4/14) before my appointment, I came down with acute appendicitis and went into surgery for an old-fashioned appendectomy in the middle of Monday morning. So I had to call the detective and cancel. He said he had to put permits work on hold due to an investigation and wouldn't be able to get back to it for a few weeks. That happened to work for me because a little less than two weeks after my surgery, I had my family vacation planned. So we agreed to meet after that.

Step 3 - Turn in the Forms & Meet
It ended up being 6/5 before we could meet. I showed up with completed package in hand, only to find out that the lady gave me the wrong one--the renewal package instead of the new one. Thankfully, the detective was kind enough to let me fill out the correct extra forms right there (which included referral requests from people who will vouch for my character).

In addition, he gave me a new set of forms that I had to take to a local fingerprinting agency, which was also a surprising $57.50 that I was not expecting. That agency didn't have an available slot until 6/13, so more waiting...

Step 4 - Get Fingerprinted
Go to a separate agency, pay them about $60 to put all your fingers on a digital scanner a few times. Oh yeah, there was another form for this you have to fill out, both online and on paper.

Step 5 - Take Fingerprinting Form Verification to Police
Amazingly enough, even though the fingerprinting is digital and even though there is a digital form you fill out with the agency online, you still have to manually take the completed/verified form back to the police HQ and drop it off in person. It's almost as if they don't want you to get guns...

Step 6 - More Waiting
The detective warned me that his backlog is longish, so not to expect a rapid turnaround. Okay, by this point I am become one with the waiting, so I go with it (as if I have a choice). They have to do the background check and referral check.

Step 7 - Call to Check on Status
As I said, I am one with the waiting. Plus, it's not like I am in urgent need here, so I give it until 7/23. I called and asked to verify he got the fingerprinting paperwork and just to find out where we are. Next thing I know, the following day I got a call from the front desk lady saying my permits were ready to be picked up.

Step 8 - Pick Up Permits
Okay, phew. One last (I hope) trip to the police HQ. I stop by, and the lady takes me back to the detective's desk. The permit card is all filled out, but I guess they wait until you pick it up to put the date on the handgun permit--because they expire. That was considerate. She fires up an ancient typewriter and plops the date on, has me sign the card and the handgun permit, and fingerprints me again on the actual permit card.

Oh yeah, the rifle and shotgun permit is $5, and each handgun permit (you have to apply for those individually) is $2. I had to bring that in cash, exactly--they don't make change.

Okay, so I had to go to the police HQ FIVE TIMES in person to get my permit. In addition, I had to go to a separate agency for fingerprinting. That's a total of SIX interruptions of workdays--as with most government offices, they have restrictive hours you have to show up in (8a-4p). Luckily my employer is flexible about stuff like that, but I can't imagine how most working (i.e., upstanding citizens) folks whose employers are not so flexible would have to deal with it.

I started this process at the beginning of April, so it took roughly four months to complete the process. Who knows if I hadn't called if it would have been longer--I doubt they had just happened to finish it then. State law says that once the app paperwork is done, the department has 30 days to complete. And you'll note on the card, it was supposedly issued on 7/13--one month after I turned in my fingerprinting forms. ;) Now granted, I had a few-week interruption that was my fault, so we could say it took three months.

In terms of money, there is obviously the cost of transportation for those six outings. On top of that is the $57.50 for the fingerprinting and the $7 for the permits. So I spent probably $65-70 just to get the authorization to purchase guns. That's not the cost to buy an actual gun, to buy the ammo, to buy the safe to keep it safe. That is just to get authorized to buy.

On top of that, the closest gun range to me is 45-50 minutes away. There are some private ranges, but you have to go through a whole, multi-year process to get into those, not to mention do community service with them. In order to get any kind of competency then, I am going to have to drive about 2 hours to a range, pay someone to train me, buy a gun (or more). Living in a city, I can't just practice in the backyard. ;)

As I said, part of the reason I did this was to go through the experience of just how much of a pain in the ass it is to legally get a gun in NJ. So far I've only been authorized to buy one, but what a pain. Time off from work. Several trips to agencies. Spending $70. All of this to exercise a constitutionally guaranteed right.

Now compare that to voting, another constitutional right. Certain people scream from the rafters if you even suggest that we require something as simple as a photo ID, which the vast majority of upstanding citizens already have. They yell about disenfranchising.

And yet, look at what it takes to exercise our 2nd Amendment right in NJ. How many citizens--especially those who live in areas where they might realistically need a handgun for self-defense--could afford to go through that process? Talk about disenfranchising.

More importantly, how many people who would abuse firearms would go through that process? I live in a city with high incidence of gun crime. I regularly see reports of illegal firearms on in my area.

All this crap doesn't work to prevent the vast majority of gun crime. Further, it adds an apparently significant administrative burden to our already-stretched-thin police departments. If it takes that long to process permits, that's time that could be spent actually fighting actual crime instead. And yet there is a whole bunch of silliness about adding even more restrictions--even here in NJ. Heck, how about creating less overhead to get citizens guns and reinvest the time saved in free, police-led training programs for citizens? That sounds like a far more effective approach to me..

Next Steps
On the positive side, at least with some effort, money, and patience, we here in NJ can actually exercise our rights. Now that I'm allowed to exercise my constitutional right (as odd as that sounds), I'll be figuring out how to make some time to get to a range and do so. Glad to be through the process!