MAYVILLE - The proof is in the paperwork. The Chautauqua County Sheriff's Office continues to see a spike in pistol permit application requests.
The inundations have pushed processing time of applications anywhere from six months to a year. And with the spring and summer approaching, the Sheriff's Office is bracing itself for a further onslaught of requests.
"There is a lot we have to deal with," said Sheriff Joe Gerace. "There is fingerprinting. There is investigations. We have to do a lot of digging to ensure the licenses are going to the right people."
Chautauqua County Sheriff Joe Gerace, right, and Undersheriff Charles Holder stand next to a stack of pistol permit applications.
Gerace said the spike in pistol permit application requests date back to 2008, when President Barack Obama was first elected. The Sheriff's Office went from 315 permit requests in 2007 to 438 requests the following year. In 2009, the number of application requests swelled to 746.
"People weren't sure of the administration and what was going to happen," Gerace said. "You can see the spike right when (Obama) took office a few years ago."
New York's new gun-control law also has increased the number of pistol permit applications given throughout the county. Gerace noted not all requests are approved; the court system, he said, officially issues the permits.
Last year, the number of application requests was 780, a far cry from the 280 in 2006. The Sheriff's Office already has processed 64 applications this year - known typically as a slow period for pistol permits.
"We have received a lot already for this time of the year," Gerace said. "We'll see the big spike in the spring and summer."
To help with the applications, the Sheriff's Office recently hired a part-time employee. Deputies and summer interns also have been utilized to avoid a longer backlog.
"We're trying to keep things flowing," Gerace said. "We're trying to do everything by appointment. But there's always the bureaucracy of paperwork, too."
Receiving a pistol permit is a time-consuming process. Hopeful permit holders first must take and complete a pistol safety course in the county. Applicants then obtain an application for a permit. The Sheriff's Office investigates every application before making a recommendation to Surrogate Court Judge Stephen W. Cass, who handles most of the pistol permit requests in the county.
According to Undersheriff Charles Holder, deputies evaluate an applicant's criminal history, past police encounters and mental health checks. A canvas of the applicant's neighborhood and recommendations also takes place, Holder said.
Those typically denied have a criminal history, excessive police encounters and an unfavorable neighborhood investigation. The final decision, however, comes from the judge.
"There's a lot involved to issue the permits," Gerace said. "We're doing our best to keep up."
In related news, state Assemblyman Andy Goodell, R-Chautauqua County, on Monday sent a letter to Gov. Andrew Cuomo and other state officials to bring a forum regarding the SAFE Act to the county. State Police and the Division of Criminal Justice began the forums last week throughout the state on the gun-control law.
"Chautauqua County is home to thousands of law-abiding outdoorsman and firearms enthusiasts," Goodell said in a news release. "It is only right that we ensure our residents are fully informed of the pending regulations and restrictions.
"Failure to comply with these new regulations could present a long-lasting negative impact on our residents, and we have a duty to inform the public."