Taking a shot at a gun permit

Posted: April 18, 2007

The wait is over. Eight weeks and six days after applying for a New Jersey Firearms Purchaser Identification Card and handgun purchase permit, I got them. So ends the experiment that Tom Ferrick and I conducted in May.

He bought two weapons within minutes the day he ventured out on a whim to test Pennsylvania's embarrassingly lame gun laws. Had he the money or motive, Ferrick could have outfitted a militia with a single swipe of the company credit card.

Me? I had to spend the summer sweating over whether the Haddonfield Police Department would give me the go-ahead to go gun shopping.

Personally, I didn't mind the wait. But does anyone really think the world is safer because a suburban mom had to think long and hard about getting armed and dangerous?

If you've been following the fireworks lately, you know better.

While I worried about background checks and personal references, kids and creeps have been blowing one another away with weapons they most definitely did not acquire by filling out forms at their local police station.

Between May 18 (the day I applied for my permit) and July 19 (the day I picked it up), 70 people in Philadelphia were killed with guns, according to analysis by my colleague Alletta Emeno. One day last week, bullets claimed three victims in 20 minutes.

Seven others were gunned down in South Jersey in the eight-week period. Even bucolic Burlington County had an attempted murder last week.

That shooter, and his gun, are still on the run. When I ask my contact at the prosecutor's office the odds that the guy went through what I did to get his gun, he just laughs.

One day after I spent $54 and my lunch hour applying for my gun permit, my next-door neighbor got a questionnaire in the mail.

I'd listed her as a character witness because, in New Jersey, they care about far more than whether prospective gun owners are former felons.

Question 9: Is the applicant an alcoholic? Question 10: Is the applicant a habitual drunkard?

Suddenly, I'm rethinking every beer I've downed on my deck.

Question 14 wanted to know whether I'm an anarchist. Question 16, if I'm now, or ever have been, "treated or observed" for any mental condition.

That one got me thinking. Could the authors of the Constitution have intended to deny Second Amendment rights to women who have suffered baby blues or men who take Prozac?

Today's leaders think it's better to be safe than sorry.

"If we get two people who say you shouldn't have a gun, we're probably going to deny you," Detective Sgt. Gary Pearce explains. "You can always go to Superior Court to appeal. "

At the end of June, Pearce dropped by the house, asking my husband if he knew of my plans and if he approved.

Initially, I'm horrified. What if we had a bad marriage, and I wanted the gun for self-protection? Why should he get to overrule my decision?

Kim Gandy, the president of the National Organization for Women, sees it differently. It's never wise to bring firepower into an abusive household, she says. And if New Jersey's law requires spousal notification, victims get time to prepare - or leave.

"It's a very thoughtful law," Gandy tells me by phone. "Yes, it makes it harder for people who aren't criminals or violent to get a gun. But, at the same time, it makes it harder for the people who are. "

Which brings us back to reality. While Pearce and I finish business at the station Wednesday, Philadelphia's death toll is rising by the hour.

Pearce says he supports gun rights but thinks the lengthy application process in New Jersey can help to keep weapons "out of the wrong hands. "

"But," he adds, "I don't think it really stops it. "

We both know where hotheaded kids looking to settle scores get their guns: on the street, in either state.

I give Pearce another $7, sign the paperwork, and head home armed only with potential.

Once again, the clock is ticking. That handgun purchase permit I waited so long to get?

It expires in 90 days.

Contact Monica Yant Kinney at myant@phillynews.com or 856-779-3914. Read her recent work at http://go.philly.com/yantkinney.

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