Atty. Ralph D. Sherman
130 West Main Street New Britain, Connecticut 06052
tel. (860) 229-0213 fax (860) 229-0235 e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
The last word on "suitability" and pistol permits
This is the column that I promised on suitability and pistol permits.
Whatever that means.
The words "a suitable person" come from Connecticut General Statutes Section 29-28(b), the basic pistol-permit statute. Although many news organizations and even the NRA usually list Connecticut as a "shall-issue" state, they're incorrect. We're a "may-issue" state.
If you doubt these examples, I'll show you actual cases
that have been appealed to the Board of Firearms Permit Examiners - cases in which the
Board has found the appellants to be "unsuitable."
I'm not saying the Board isn't doing its job. The Board
has to do what the statute says.
But I do think that "suitability" is just
another feel-good idea that doesn't really protect anybody from criminals.
Two months ago, I wrote (in this column) about pistol
permits in Texas, a true "shall-issue" state, with no "suitability"
requirement. Of 114,809 people who received Texas permits in 1996, only 399, or 0.3
percent were arrested. Those arrests include minor misdemeanors and crimes that have
nothing to do with guns or concealed carry. And those figures are arrests, not
convictions. After some statistician sorts out the non-felony crimes and the
non-convictions, the number will be much smaller.
But what really counts, I think, is an even smaller
figure: How many permit-holders were convicted of crimes that involved the permit in
some way? That is, how many individuals committed a crime that was somehow
facilitated by the individual having the permit?
No one seems to have the answer to that question. But if there were really a problem with permit-holders using their concealed handguns in crime, you can bet that Handgun Control, Inc., would be waving the statistics in foot-high numerals. The truth is, the real figure must be way below the 0.3 percent who were arrested.
So for those of you who think that suitability is a bad criterion, I agree. It's vague and leads to inconsistent outcomes that vary unpredictably. With suitability in the statute, we need the Board, and we need the Board to be manned by good guys. If a bad governor should succeed in stacking the Board, or if the Board is eliminated by the legislature, very bad things could happen.
More importantly, I think we have to accept the fact that
Connecticut is not Pennsylvania (a very pro-gun state). Fortunately, Connecticut isn't New
Jersey, either. We were a rural state until after World War II; then people started moving
from the city into the country, thereby building suburbia. We are a small state with a big
When Rep. Lawlor tells a reporter that we need to make it possible to pull permits of guys like Matthew Beck (the lottery murderer), I tell the reporter: Suitability is already in the statute. The police and the Board ARE pulling permits of guys who have no history of convictions - in some cases no history of arrests. I think that suitability helps convince the voters in the middle - those who don't own guns and don't belong to Handgun Control - that we already have a tough standard and enough restrictions. So I see suitability as a way of keeping things from getting worse.
I have hundreds of friends and acquaintances who have had
permits for years. They've never been in trouble and probably never will be. But in about
20 other states these people couldn't get permits under any circumstances. So I accept our
present status as a state "in the middle." We're not Pennsylvania, but
we're not New Jersey.
And by the way, Handgun Control agrees with me. Their most recent "report card" on gun laws gave Pennsylvania an F and New Jersey (with only 2,200 permit holders) an A minus. We got a C plus.
Copyright 1998 by Ralph D. Sherman