Monday, December 7, 2009
- Buying a Handgun In NJ
I find that I get a lot of search hits for the phrase “buying a gun in NJ”. That makes sense I suppose. It is one of the hardest states to buy a firearm legally. Ironically, it’s still pretty easy to get one illegally, but that’s really another story. I figured that since it’s such a common search term I’d relate the story of what I went through to buy my new Beretta PX4 .45 just a few weeks ago.
The first step in buying a firearm for NJ residents is to apply for a NJ State “Firearms ID Card”. I’m not sure about the constitutionality of it or what the claimed legal justification for it is. But I do know that it’s settled law as far as the local courts go, so there is no way to buy a firearm in NJ without one. It’s required if you plan to buy either a handgun or a long gun, so there is really no getting around it. The good news is its good for life, so you really only have to go through it once.
You can get one by going to your local police station and requesting the forms for a NJ FID. When I first moved to NJ from NY, I got one right away. Of course, I already had several guns when I moved to the state, but I knew that I would want to buy more so I figured I might as well get to it. The detective who was assigned to that duty in my town was an old world guy who was close to retirement. Most cops are actually pro-gun; it’s really only politicians who are against civilian gun ownership, and he was a guy who was cut from that cloth.
He helped me get the forms filled out correctly, did my fingerprints, and submitted my paperwork to the state police cheerfully and since I was new to the state, he even recommended a local gun club. He was big on smiles, and long on patience so even if it would take a while for everything to get processed, it was still a pleasant endeavor for me. Under the law, the review process where they check your background and fingerprints etc, is allowed to take up to 6 months to complete. Back in the bad old days of liberal hegemony in Trenton, that meant that every application submitted anywhere in the state would take exactly 5 months, 29 days to finish. But the liberal bureaucracy being what it is they weren’t able to hold to that standard, and in an ironic twist, “good enough for government work” now means that permits are actually filled more rapidly than they used to be. Mine took about a month.
Anyway, that’s step one. Once it’s complete, you can go into any gun shop in the state and purchase a rifle or shotgun. Of course, thanks to literally thousands of prohibitive restrictions and a generally anti-business climate in Trenton, there are fewer places to buy a gun than there used to be. But assuming you can still find someone to sell it to you, it would be legal for you to do so. There are also federal regs that need to be met at the time of purchase along with forms to be filled out, but I’ll let the guys at the gun shop explain those to you. If you get past the FID check then the federal stuff is a breeze and shouldn’t represent a problem for most people.
Of course, the gun I wanted to buy was a handgun, so I had another problem. To purchase a handgun legally in NJ, you have a state issued “permit to purchase a handgun”. To get one of those requires a great deal more work on your part. Each handgun you want to purchase will require you to file a seperate application for a ‘permit to purchase’ because they are only good for one each. They also expire 6 months after they are issued, so you had better do your shopping first.
In my case, when I called my local police department to apply for my ‘permit to purchase’, I discovered that the friendly and generous detective I’d worked with in the past had retired and been replaced with a younger man who didn’t share his views on civilian gun ownership. On the phone he explained to me that I could come by to pick up the paperwork anytime I liked from Tuesday to Thursday, 11:00 AM to 2:00 PM, or Friday from 5:00PM to 7:00 PM only. And since I work full time I elected to ‘pop by’ at 6PM on a Friday.
When I got there he gave me the required forms, explaining which ones I needed to have notarized, and also explained who was to be paid with the two separate checks I needed to bring back. He then told me in what I was to come to understand is his typically nasty tone, that if it were up to him he would get rid of every gun in the country and never let anyone buy another one. When I asked if that might make his job more difficult having to do it without a firearm, he explained that he only meant that to apply to “you people…you know…civilians. Cops could still have guns of course”.
“Oh I see” was my only reply. I didn’t see any point in engaging in a political argument with someone whose good faith effort I needed. I expected him to meet his legal requirements but I knew there were other obstacles he could put in my way if he wanted so rather than alienate him I just let it go. Had I known what was coming I’d have just verbally opened up on him, but instead I just left with his instructions that I had to call for an appointment to bring the forms back.
Anyway… over a period of the next few weeks, I got the forms filled out properly, got the required notarization's, and picked up the needed certified checks. When I had everything in order I gave him a call only to roll off to his voicemail. I left a message explaining who I was, what I wanted, and how he could reach me, and then asked him to call me back to arrange something. When a few days passed without a call back, I tried that again… and again…and again.
After 4 voicemails I assumed there was some problem so I called the main desk of the police department and asked if he was out on leave or vacation and if so, was there someone else who could handle my permit application. They explained that not only was he in every day, but there was no one else there who could help me… I had to deal with him.
This seemed like an intractable issue to me until I had a revelation. I called one more time to find out when he would be in the office, and instead of calling from my home I went down there unannounced. The police department in my sleepy Monmouth county town doesn’t even have a reception desk, just a phone in the lobby which you use to call the police behind the opaque barrier. So I walked in there, picked up the phone and asked for Officer Mike Moody.
Sure enough after a ring and a half there he was on the phone. I have no evidence of course, but my suspicion is that rather than seeing a call from an external phone which he invariably let roll to voicemail, he saw this as an internal number calling and picked it up without thinking. This view was supported by his surprised and annoyed tone. He certainly didn't sound happy to be hearing from me.
Given his stated political views, it seemed a rational conclusion to me that he might be adding his own ‘procedural delays’ to the process. I wouldn’t expect him to do anything that might leave a paper trail of course, but I wouldn’t put it past him if he were thinking that a guy could hardly be blamed if he missed a voicemail or two right? I mean, it could have been horribly garbled, or maybe he couldn’t understand my accent or something. He might have just been lazy or incompetent, but that isn't the way I would bet.
Anyway when I explained from the lobby that I had left several unanswered voicemails but was here right now with my paperwork in hand, I think he imagined the date being listed in a civil rights lawsuit and eventually came out to fetch me. His manner was as terse, nasty and dismissive as any other overly pampered civil servant I’ve ever dealt with, but he met all the legal obligations of his task. He accepted my forms and my checks and told me that it could take as long as 6 weeks for the paperwork to be processed.
I told him that was fine, through a proud grin. Whether I was right or wrong, I was feeling particularly pleased at myself for being able to circumnavigate what I saw as intentional procedural delays. And I knew that with the paperwork submitted, he would have to either give me my permit in the time allowed by statute, or show just cause why he would not. Since I was certain he would find no valid cause to deny my application, I already felt as if I had won.
Sure enough, a little over 5 weeks later I got an unbelievably nasty voice mail on my cell phone from him telling me that “I had better get down there and pick up my permit because it was going to expire at the rate I was going”. Given how I saw the circumstance of the delays, this seemed particularly obnoxious to me. I no longer needed his good will and was under no further illusions about getting it anyway, so I had every intention of getting in the jerk’s face when I went to pick it up. But instead he sent a secretary out to the lobby with it, denying me my last bit of emotional satisfaction. It’s probably just as well.
Since you deal with the local police department, it’s different in every town. And I’m told by my friends at the gun club that not all towns are so difficult. Even my town wasn’t so bad when I first moved here, it’s only recently that it's gotten so much worse. But the moral of this story is that even in a town where they really don’t want you to own a gun, it’s still your right. And the law is the law even if those that are supposed to enforce it make it abundantly clear that they don’t like it much.
Going forward, I’ll have my triumph over Officer Mike Moody to brace me up the next time I’m forced to deal with him. In fact, to be totally fair to the rest of my town’s police force, a quick google of New Jersey Public records shows that on November 19th of this year he received a 10 day suspension for insubordination and neglect of duty. I guess they don’t like him any better than I did. Or maybe some other applicant with good political connections got jerked around by him even more badly than me and complained to his boss. Guys like that are sure to offend the wrong person eventually.
Anyway …that’s a narrative, but embedded in it you can see the process for getting a gun in NJ. And in disclosure, I’m not a lawyer so if you want the official process for applying for and receiving permission to buy a firearm in NJ, I recommend you get it from your local police department... don't listen to me. Hopefully you'll have it easier than I did. I had to deal with the new breed of civil employee that sees himself as my civil master rather than a civil servant. I wouldn't wish that on anyone.