Why getting a gun permit in Philly isn't exactly bang-bang | Stu Bykofsky

Stu Bykofsky, poses with two of his firearms for which he needs a gun permit in his home in Center City, on Monday evening, Sept. 25, 2017.

My colleague Helen Ubiñas was stunned when she went out last year and bought an AR-15 rifle in only seven minutes, including a background check.

There’s no reason the law-abiding Ubiñas should not have been able to buy a rifle easily, because gun ownership in the United States of America is a right, but the column still caused a sensation.

When I went out last week to renew my police-issued concealed-carry permit, it took me 17 times longer than Ubiñas — two hours and four minutes. That was Step 1 of a two-step process that can take up to 40 days to conclude.

I know that some of you are wondering why I need a permit, or why I need a gun at all. I got a gun and a permit more than 20 years ago after receiving anonymous threats on my home phone, which then was a listed number.

Over the years, several work-related threats were received. In the most recent instance, a dozen years ago, email threats to me and to three Daily News colleagues resulted in an arrest and conviction.

I have a gun for self-defense because my employer can’t provide me with 24/7 protection and neither can police.

Camera icon KAIT MOORE
Stu Bykofsky poses in his home with two of his firearms, for which he needs a carry permit.

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that every law-abiding citizen has an unquestioned right to own a gun. As to whether the Second Amendment guarantees a right to carry a weapon, “That’s an open question, and it is working its way through the courts,” I am told by local gun-law lawyer Jon Mirowitz.

He and I agree that the city’s process is time-consuming and burdensome. Deputy Police Commissioner Dennis Wilson says that’s not deliberate, that a lot of it is due to state regulation.

The gun permit unit, formerly located in a decrepit — if centrally located — building at 10th and Spring Garden, moved in July to 660 E. Erie Ave. in Feltonville. The unit has a few civilian employees, Wilson says, but most are police officers dressed in jeans with Glocks on their hips. Wilson says the department doesn’t reveal staffing levels. Frankly, I don’t know why they need uniformed officers to do what is basically a clerical job.

The city has issued 37,333 active gun permits, says Wilson, with about 235 new applicants during a typical week. So far this year, 7,580 applications have been received and 7,391 have been approved. Permits are good for five years, and only half of permit holders renew each year.

Interestingly, the permit costs $20, down from the $25 I paid in 2010. What other city service costs less today?

The bad news? The unit does not accept cash, plastic, or checks. It  accepts only postal money orders. How convenient. They are easy to handle and don’t bounce, Wilson explains, adding that the unit can’t operate like a retail store or bank.

Here’s what you must bring: a 2-inch-square head shot, answers to a questionnaire of 10 questions (which will be asked again during your interview), state-issued ID, two proofs of your residence, proof of citizenship status, plus proof of discharge for veterans. The public hours are 8:30 to 1, after which there is “a lot of administrative paperwork,” says Wilson.

I arrived at 8:39, checked in, and was No. 16 among those renewing. There’s a separate line for people returning to pick up their permits.

I waited an hour before being taken for an interview, during which the questions I had answered on the form were asked again, plus a few new ones. (My favorites: “Are you a habitual drunkard?”  “Are you a fugitive?”)

The interview took about 20 minutes, followed by a half-hour wait to be fingerprinted. I was through at 10:43.

Now I have to wait up to 40 days to be told if I have passed, then must return to be photographed and get my permit. The review “takes longer than someone would be willing to wait,” Wilson says.

The paperwork mentions a 40-day wait, but the unit is turning around applications in seven days and notifies applicants by mail when they have been approved, Wilson says.

If he’s right, I’ll be sitting in 660 E. Erie Ave. next week, picking up my carry permit. Buying the weapons was so much easier.