Robert Banfelder, 73, keeps most of his firearms in a black safe about as tall as he is and heavier than four people can lift in the office of his Riverhead home, which overlooks the Peconic River. He and his partner of 40 years, Donna Derasmo, 68, have enjoyed target shooting since they began dating.
But the pistol by his bedside — one of six handguns they own — serves a different purpose: home defense, especially since the recent acts of terrorism, Banfelder said.
“People are waking up . . . it goes from concern for your family, yourself, your children, to fear,” he said.
Data from Nassau and Suffolk law enforcement agencies in January show that concentrations of pistol permits issued on Long Island increase noticeably from the west to the east. The ratio of pistol permits per 100 residents increases from about 1 in western Nassau — Great Neck has 0.96 — to up to 5 per 100 -- Mattituck has 5.22 permits per 100 residents. In New York State, a valid pistol permit is required to purchase a handgun, which includes pistols and revolvers. Each county licensing authority has a list of requirements, including that applicants must be at least 21 years old, unless they have served in the armed forces; reside in the county in which they wish to obtain a pistol; have no prior convictions for felonies or domestic violence misdemeanors; and undergo a full background check. Permits are not required to purchase long guns, such as shotguns and rifles, officials said.
It is less costly to purchase permits in Suffolk County. Suffolk charges $10 for a five-year pistol license, and the renewal fee every five years is $10, compared to $200 to purchase a Nassau permit or obtain a five-year renewal, according to each county’s pistol license bureaus.
Suffolk County also has two licensing authorities: the Suffolk County Police Department and the Sheriff’s Department. Suffolk’s fee is the highest amount allowed by the New York Penal Code, from which Nassau is exempt. Det. Vincent Garcia said Nassau’s fees are determined by the county legislature and based on the number of manpower hours involved in conducting background checks. For both counties, there is a one-time fee for fingerprinting — $91.50 in Nassau and $89.75 in Suffolk.
James Jacobs, a professor of constitutional law at New York University, said the desire to purchase a pistol permit for home protection might be more prevalent in rural areas because of the greater distances police may have to travel to respond to a call. “So people would be more concerned with finding ways to protect themselves,” he said.
Greater numbers of gun permits in more rural areas on Long Island also reflects a nationwide trend, said Nicholas Johnson, a professor of law at Fordham University, who specializes in guns issues and the Second Amendment.
“In urban areas, most of the gun ownership is accounted for by self-defense, but as you get more and more rural, you’ve got an added component to that, which is the sporting culture,” he said.
Mike Marelli, owner of Long Island TopShots — a shooting range in Ridge — gives shooting lessons aimed at personal home defense and recreational accuracy. He said the former is more common among his clients.
“Ninety percent of my business that are pistol permit holders are people who got pistols for home protection, and 10 percent are actually interested in sports,” he said.
Marelli said some of his clientele hold permits that allow them to carry a handgun for business reasons. In order to qualify for this license, they have to prove they carry or exchange a substantial amount of cash or valuable materials in the regular course of business.
“The pistol permits are where the money is — there is a lot of money out there,” he said.
There are also some outliers in the data. Aquebogue, a mile-long hamlet in the North Fork at the end of the Long Island Expressway, has a ZIP code with 96 gun permits listed among 36 residents, or a ratio of 261 permits per 100 people, according to Suffolk County records. However, the Suffolk Sheriff’s Department records show that there are more people with post office boxes in Aquebogue than there are Aquebogue residents, which may mean that some of the pistol permits registered within the 11931 ZIP code belong to people who actually live in nearby communities.
Banfelder said whether people purchase guns for protection or for sport, everyone should be trained with how to use them safely. "It should be mandatory that gun owners have a safe, and adequate training," he said.