A month after Gov. Dannel Malloy signed the state's tough new gun laws, law enforcement officials still are struggling to keep up with the surge in pistol permits while firearms vendors are trying to cope with being unable to sell certain weapons.
"I feel sorry for the people that are just starting out in this business," said John Longhi, owner of John's Firearms Ltd. in Torrington. "There's a lot of new laws and nobody seems to know what the hell they are."
To illustrate his point, Longhi said a Massachusetts couple came into the Country Club Road store on Friday seeking to buy .22-caliber bullets.
"I told them I wasn't going to sell to them because I didn't want to run the risk of violating laws in two states," he said.
Mike Higgins, co-owner of TGS Outdoors in Branford, said there is a shortage of all types of ammunition in the aftermath of new gun laws in Connecticut and the furor surrounding the national gun debate in general .
"It's so hard to get right now that some ammunition manufacturers have a backlog," Higgins said.
Neither Higgins nor Longhi was certain why ammunition seems to be in short supply.
"Some people are saying it's a big conspiracy by the government," Longhi said.
Comparing history of gun sales at TGS Outdoors is difficult because the store wasn't opened at this time a year ago, Higgins said. But he estimated that with less strict gun laws in Connecticut, his firearms sales would be exponentially larger than what they are now.
"If our state was a free state, I could be making four times what I am now," Higgins said. "I'm just trying to survive, to be a small mom-and-pop shop, which the politicians love to claim that they support. But what they've done is to force me into a small puddle of inventory where I have to fight it out with other business like mine, and that's if I can get types of guns that people are looking for, because there is a real shortage of product."
While firearms dealers are reporting a shortage of ammunition and some types of weapons, there is no shortage in the amount of paperwork that law enforcement officials are dealing with. Local police departments are reporting a surge in pistol permit applications, a key step in the lengthy process needed to buy a gun.
"We have been seeing an increase over the past year but the early part of this year has been significant in the amount of requests," said Ansonia Police Lt. Andrew Cota.
Cheshire Police Lt. James Fassano said the town is on pace to top 161 pistol permit requests that it processed in all of 2012. The department had processed 137 pistol permit requests as of last week, Fassano said.
"People want to get them and they want them sooner rather than later," he said.
But getting a state pistol permit is a lengthy process, Higgins said.
"It used to be about three months," he said. "But now it's more like four to six months."
The first step in that process involves taking and passing both written and shooting competency tests, Higgins said. Once someone gets their certificate for having passed those tests, he said, the next step is to apply for a permit with their local police department.
That involves getting fingerprinted and, in some communities, getting a letter of recommendation to show police, he said. The permit application is then sent to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, where an individual's information is cross-checked against a national database to see if they have committed any crimes.
Once the FBI is done processing the application, they send it back to the local police department, Higgins said, which then issues a permit.
If municipal police approve a permit, State Police then must review it to determine whether the individual qualifies for a state permit.
Once an individual looking to purchase a pistol legally gets their permit, they take it to a gun store and select the weapon they want to buy. Before the store owner can sell the gun to the individual, they have to call State Police to provide them with an authorization number found on the permit.
Using that authorization number, a second cross-check is done on the gun purchaser's record, Higgins said.
"Somebody comes into my store today to purchase a pistol with all of the proper paperwork, they're going to spend 45 minutes at least doing everything they need to do before they can leave here with a gun," he said. "Right before the laws changed, I paid someone just to sit on the phone with the state to process the sales because it was taking three hours or more."
State Police spokesman Lt. J. Paul Vance said the agency has a current backlog of 4,800 state pistol permit applications.
"We clean up some every day and some more come in," Vance said. "It's like throwing sand against the tide."
Fasano said Cheshire officials are waiting to get back about 65 pistol permit from State Police. Cota said Friday he was uncertain how many applications that department is waiting for from the agency.
"I know that we are sending them out when we get them and there are numerous returns coming in every day," Cota said.
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