As questions about gun rights swirl around the nomination of a new Supreme Court Justice, and debate continues over attempts in Congress to make it easier to carry concealed weapons state-to-state, an increasing number of Long Islanders are applying for pistol permits.
The reasons? Those interviewed at local shooting ranges and gun shops say they are anxious about the possibility of stricter gun laws under a new Administration, and about their personal safety in a weakened economy.
Their concerns about changes in the law were echoed recently by the National Rifle Association, which declared it may withdraw support from politicians who back Sonia Sotomayor's nomination to the Supreme Court.
The NRA objects to Sotomayor's ruling as an appeals court judge that the Second Amendment prohibits only federal limits on the right to bear arms, not state curbs. The group said she has a "hostile view" toward Second Amendment rights.
Also within the last two weeks, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg weighed in on the fight against federal legislation that would require states that issue concealed-weapons permits to honor those issued by other states.
Gun sales are up nationwide, as evidenced by the increased number of firearms background checks requested of the FBI. These rose more than 25 percent in the first five months of 2009 compared with the same period last year.
Locally, some gun shop owners say sales are up 40 percent in the past eight to 10 months. Local police have recorded bumps in pistol applications and permits issued (the state requires no permits for rifles or shotguns).
Pistol permit applications on Long Island are projected to total about 3,500 this year, nearly 50 percent more than last year, according to figures provided by Nassau and Suffolk police. New York State projects it will issue more than 16,000 pistol permits this year. That's up nearly 21 percent from 2008. New York permits allow pistols to be kept at home or a place of business. Concealed carry permits are much harder to get.
Newsday interviewed people who recently bought handguns or are considering doing so, or who have applied or are considering applying for pistol permits. Some declined to state their specific home communities.
THOMAS ADELIS, 22, Nassau County resident
Employed at security business
Owns .38-caliber Smith & Wesson and 9-mm Sig Sauer handguns
He bought his guns within the last six months and said they are for self-defense. Adelis says he thinks property crime may rise as the economy stagnates. "Every day it gets worse and worse," he says. "There are a lot of wackos out there and the economy, the way it is now, people get nervous and start breaking in, stealing things to sell for money. You hear about home invasions. I'm not saying that I'm going to pull out the gun right away and shoot someone. You can't get a handgun and use it however you want.
"I mainly got it to protect my home, the people I love, and for (protection) at my work. I bought (a second handgun) just in case something ever happened to the first one."
EDWARD FUNCHESS, 44, Westbury
Works for tire-repair service
Owns a .30-06 caliber Remington rifle, and an Remington 879 shotgun. Plans to apply for a handgun permit.
He loves target-shooting. "It relieves a lot of frustration and it's a good workout, " he says. "You're trying to get a small object into a small target. By trying to concentrate on that, as soon as you pull the trigger all your tension goes right out with the bullet."
Funchess first learned about guns in the Army. "My first hunting experience was when I was 26, 27," he said. "I hunt upstate, for deer, bear, rabbit, squirrels. Nonhunters who hear about it, I say: 'That steak you buy, how do you think it gets to the store? Somebody has to kill it.'
"I want to get a permit for a handgun for target practice. I want to get a permit before they add more rules and change all the regulations."
JAN HANNA, "over 50," Southampton Town Small-business owner, married to Jacques Ditte
Two handguns: .357-Magnum Smith & Wesson 60
and .38-caliber Smith & Wesson 637
Hanna purchased her first handgun a few months ago, then another soon after that.
"I was a little nervous about what was going to happen politically," she said. "Second, it was gradually dawning on me that I have no way to defend myself . . . and I thought maybe I should do something about this."
She said she has completed safety training courses.
"It shows you about gun safety. You should try to do everything you can to fire a gun only in the gravest and extreme circumstances."
JACQUES DITTE, 50, Southampton Town
Works in advertising
Owns a Sig Mosquito .22 caliber and
a Smith & Wesson 9 mm
Ditte said he got his license at the end of last year, bought one pistol earlier this year, then added another.
Asked why, he said: "Because I have the right. I have my license and it is my constitutional God-given right. I have the right to self protection."
He also said he enjoys target-shooting. He said he went through an extensive background check to purchase his guns, including providing fingerprints and four character witnesses.
"They checked me out more than half the citizens in New York State," he said. "It's not like anybody is going to go out and get one."
The "background check for a pistol license goes far beyond what any citizen in N.Y. state ever goes through, as my fingerprints and background checks go to FBI, state and local databases for verification. How many New York residents who have never been arrested ever go through such scrutiny?" he said.
"The point is in life, things happen and there is always the chance - God forbid - where it's life or death. You have the right to take your safety into your own hands."
KAREN BERGMAN, 57, Centerport
Owns High Standard .22-caliber target-shooting
Bergman bought her first handgun about three years ago. She said she "fully intends" to purchase another at some point, and it might be soon, given her concerns that gun laws might be strengthened under the Obama Administration.
She also is a trap shooter, which is competitive clay pigeon shooting, usually involving shotguns.
"I got into pistols as sport," said Bergman. "I've taken courses on handgun safety and I am an NRA instructor on shotgun, pistols and rifles."
Her husband introduced her to shooting and in the sport, "I've met terrific people and it opened up a whole new world to me."
"I love pistol shooting and the people I shoot with are very responsible."
DAVID BIGGS, 28, Nassau County Works in construction
Owns three rifles, intends to buy a 9-mm handgun and to apply for a permit
He's getting the pistol to protect himself in his home. "I believe that people should have the right to bear arms and protect their families. I think that people don't understand that if someone comes into your house, you're going to thank God you had the ability to protect your family. A handgun is a lot smaller and it's better for close-quarter shooting. A rifle can go right through the wall."
Like some others gun-shopping, he believes increased restrictions on handguns are inevitable. "I have a feeling it's going to get a lot harder to get a permit. I have a lot of friends who are getting permits too. I guess I was 9 years old when I first started target shooting. I love it. It's a lot of fun. After a long day of work, you go shoot, it's a stress release."