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Suit: Nassau stalls on gun license processing

Nassau County Police Commissioner Thomas Dale speaks to

Nassau County Police Commissioner Thomas Dale speaks to the legislature in Mineola. (May 21, 2012) Credit: Howard Schnapp

Three Nassau County residents have filed lawsuits against Police Commissioner Thomas Dale, contending the department failed to process their pistol license applications within the six-month time frame set by the state.

"It currently takes up to 18 months to receive a pistol license in Nassau County," said attorney Michelle Murtha, who represents the three applicants in the lawsuit filed last week. "The Nassau County police commissioner is aware that he is legally required to process pistol license applications within six months, but he is knowingly and purposely refusing to follow the law."

Police department spokesman Kenneth Lack acknowledged "shortcomings" in the application process, but declined to comment on the suit.

In a June 19 letter to Murtha, Dale said the six-month provision "is not a firm deadline" and that expediting applications could jeopardize public safety.

"I do not believe relaxing the standards for conducting pistol license applications would further the public safety interests of Nassau County," Dale wrote. "The department's present pistol permit policy has served its residents well."

Sgt. Sal Mistretta, commanding officer of the pistol division, said the department is technically in compliance with the six-month statute because the county starts the clock late in the process, when the applicant's fingerprints are sent to the FBI. Murtha disagrees and says the clock starts when the application is first submitted.

In Nassau, a license from the police department is needed to purchase a pistol. The license allows residents to keep the gun in their home and carry it to and from firing ranges.Applicants must undergo a rigorous background check, including past arrests, level of education, medical history, use of legal and illegal drugs, traffic summonses and character references.

The suits -- which ask for the refund of court and attorney fees -- were filed on behalf of three men who have waited between seven and nine months since submitting their applications. Each was told a license would take 12 to 18 months, Murtha said.

Dale blamed the backlog on the downsizing of the pistol unit, which went from a staff of 27 in 2008 to 12 in 2012. The unit has a backlog of 550 pistol applications and processes 600 licenses annually, Mistretta said.

"It is not possible to properly review and investigate all submitted applications within the cited statutory time limit," Dale wrote.

Mistretta said he has expedited the review process by submitting mental health and organized crime background checks earlier in the process.

But gun rights advocates contend Dale has abdicated his responsibilities.

"The law says it should take no longer than six months and it's important they follow through," said Steven Blair of Ronkonkoma, founder of Long Island Firearms and the Long Island Second Amendment Preservation Association, two websites for firearms enthusiasts that are funding the lawsuits. Blair said his Suffolk County members have not complained about permit delays. A Suffolk County police spokesman did not return calls for comment.

"This is not a Second Amendment issue or a gun rights issue," Murtha said. "This could just as easily be applications for business licenses."

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