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COLUMN: From the legislature - How the shall vs. may issue effects concealed weapons in Onondaga County

— An increasing number of county residents have asked why it is nearly impossible to get a concealed carry pistol permit in Onondaga County. Frustrated by this myself, I have followed this issue for many years and would like to explain how this has come to be and who has the power to change it.

Most states have a “shall issue” policy for concealed carry pistol permit issuance, meaning the licensing authority must issue the applicant a concealed carry permit unless there is a reason not to issue one. In contrast, New York state law gives power to the licensing authority in each county to issue unrestricted permits on discretionary basis. Onondaga County court judges make this decision here, and they have for decades denied permits because almost no reason is ever satisfactory for law-abiding citizens to get one. This is known as a “may issue” policy and it has resulted in constitutional challenges in the minority of states that have this policy.

The Supreme Court ruled in a pair of cases, District of Columbia v. Heller and McDonald v. Chicago, that the Second Amendment recognizes an individual right to own firearms that are in common usage. This is good news to gun rights advocates, but leaves a remaining question about whether the scope of this right includes the right to carry outside the home.

The “may issue” vs. “shall issue” controversy is the new frontier in the Second Amendment debate and is currently winding its way through the federal court system. The New York policy has so far been upheld by the federal Second Circuit Court of Appeals, however, the Seventh Circuit struck down a similar policy in Illinois and commanded the state legislature to formulate a “shall issue” law before June of this year. The same question is also being litigated in the Woollard v. Sheridan case out of Maryland in the Fourth Circuit.

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