By Kate Lisa New York State
PUBLISHED 5:23 AM ET Sep. 19, 2023
Gun owners in the state say they've been improperly denied, or experienced lengthy delays to purchase ammunition for their legal firearms in the days since a new law took effect requiring a New York State Police background check to purchase firing rounds.
Gun rights advocates are questioning how efficiently State Police can process incoming applications, and if the department has the necessary technology and staff to manage appeals in a timely manner.
Gun and ammunition dealers can submit background check applications to the State Police through with an online submission form 24 hours a day, seven days per week, but gun owners said Monday it can take from 30 minutes to a few days until the person requesting to make the purchase gets a response.
Under the new requirements, New Yorkers will pay an additional $9 fee to cover the cost of the background check when purchasing a firearm, or an additional $2.50, which will fund the State Police unit and the system.
"The system isn't working — they're making mistakes," said Tom King, executive director of the state Rifle and Pistol Association.
King said he was denied over the weekend when he filed an application for a background check to purchase .410 shotgun shells in Rensselaer County.
A person has 30 days to appeal if State Police deny the attempted sale, and police have 30 days to respond and explain the reason for the denial. Additional appeals are filed with the state attorney general's office.
The length of appeal may vary based on the reason for denial, according to State Police.
"The New York State Police will continue to update the NYS NICS system in order to provide an accurate and timely response," police said. "Again, while some transactions are processed immediately, others require more research."
King, who's had a pistol permit in the state for more than 40 years, is preparing to go through the appeal process. He cannot try to buy ammunition again until the appeals process concludes as the fall hunting season approaches.
"The only people that this is affecting is the lawful legal citizen in New York state," King said Monday. "We're the ones that are being discriminated against."
Executive director of New Yorkers Against Gun Violence Rebecca Fisher said the new system works with the state's strengthened Red Flag Laws to reduce gun violence, and prevent someone who poses a threat to themselves or others from accessing a weapon.
"While lawful gun owners may have to wait a bit longer right now in the immediate, they themselves understand what could potentially happen if an individual who does not have a license or does not pass a background check is able to obtain that gun,” Fischer said.
King plans to file a federal lawsuit to challenge the new rules with other gun owners across the state who say they've also been improperly denied.
"They're denying everybody I've talked to," King added. "I don't know how many individuals who have a totally clean background and they're getting denied, and that happened to me. I've never had anything. I've never had a red flag. I've never had any kind of protection order. I've never been involved with the police ... and I was denied. And that's just wrong."
A separate case challenging the constitutionality of the ammunition database and background checks is working its way through federal court.
The Democratic Legislature implemented the ammunition database and background check process last year in response to a lawsuit from King in which the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the state's century-old concealed carry statute.
But Fischer said advocates confident this law will hold up in court.
"Thirty minutes is not a long time given what's at stake when an individual who should not have a firearm in their hands and should not possess a firearm, is going through the process," Fischer said.
Fischer said it's up to the State Police to implement the system correctly. The legislation requires the department to publish related statistical data in an annual report.
Lawmakers included $20 million in the 2023-24 budget for State Police to implement the new system, including the hiring of 100 additional staff. State Police would not answer questions about its hiring processes or how many of the staff have been hired to date.
"The State Police absolutely has an obligation to ensure that this new system is implemented and enforced," Fischer said. "We are losing over 40,000 individual Americans to gun violence every single year with hundreds of thousands more injured by guns. We need to find that balance."
Assemblyman Robert Smullen, a Republican from Fulton County, said he's heard State Police are struggling with the database rollout.
"It's one of those things whenever you try to do a system the first time usually doesn't go very well, and that's what I'm hearing," he said.
New York State Police officials could not provide the number of background check applications a person in the state has filed to purchase ammo or a firearm since the law took effect. The department will release numbers at a later date.
Any background check conducted is not considered a public record and will not be disclosed to anyone not authorized by law, according to State Police.
Gun and ammo dealers will be able to file background check applications using an automated phone system, but the line will not be available until an undetermined date in October.
State Police also will use funding from background check fees to support operational costs of the program, including the platform that supports the background check process, according to the state Budget Division.