By the time the Niagara County Courthouse opened on Wednesday morning, 150 people were lined up to apply for permits that would let them carry concealed handguns. Nearly 100 had camped out overnight, with some staying awake in folding chairs, taking walks at intervals to keep warm.
The permitting office at the county courthouse, located in Lockport, N.Y., has been processing about 150 applications every day this week, officials said, part of a spike in demand before most provisions of New York’s new gun law go into effect on Thursday. Similar lines have formed outside permitting offices around the state ahead of the new rules, which are designed to tightly control firearms after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a century-old law regulating guns that was among the nation’s strongest.
In New York City, there has been a 54 percent increase in license applications since June. In Oswego County, the permitting office hired two full-time employees to keep up with demand. And a firearms permitting expert in Suffolk County said in an interview Wednesday that he was fielding as many as 50 phone calls a day from people who were hurrying to get their applications in.
“It’s been crazy,” said the expert, Matthew Seifer, adding that he had helped between 1,500 and 1,800 applicants since late June.
That month, the Supreme Court handed down its decision on New York’s gun law, which had placed strict limits on carrying handguns in public. In response, the State Legislature passed a new law that set requirements for applicants, including 16 hours of training and the provision of character references and a list of former and current social media accounts.
In a news conference Wednesday, Gov. Kathy Hochul acknowledged the rise in applications but said she did not expect an immediate increase in concealed weapons, given the time it would take to process applications; the wait could take as long as a year, she said.
But eventually, demand for firearms will harm safety, Ms. Hochul said, noting that New York had the fifth-lowest per capita death rate from guns. She called the Supreme Court’s decision “negligent and reprehensible.”
“We’ve been working very, very hard, removing thousands of guns that have been coming into our streets illegally from other states. We don’t need guns on our streets,” Ms. Hochul said.
In most counties, permits simply need to be recertified with the state police, a straightforward process that mostly takes place online. That has led officials to believe that the lines upstate consist mostly of those applying for new permits.
But in New York City, and Suffolk, Nassau and Westchester Counties, licenses must be renewed every three years, a far more burdensome process that will require permit holders to meet the same requirements as new applicants.
Applicants who received a carry permit before Thursday will be able to avoid the new requirements for now. But those whose applications are still being processed when the deadline arrives — as will likely be the case for the people who lined up this week — will have to meet them.
The new rules have rankled some gun owners. Bill McGuire, 73, the owner of Interlaken Guns & Ammo on the Finger Lakes town’s Main Street, called the new law unconstitutional.
“The people with pistol permits are some of the most honest people in the whole state,” said Mr. McGuire, who was wearing a holstered Kahr P40 semiautomatic pistol, one of 16 handguns he owns. “Why? Because if they violate the law, they’re going to have their permit taken away from them, and they don’t want to lose it.”
But the new law has also set off concerns, particularly downstate, where for many people, the carrying of guns in public will represent a “culture shift,” according to Carmen De La Rosa, a city councilwoman who represents neighborhoods in Upper Manhattan.
“I don’t want to imagine a New York City where people are just willy-nilly carrying around firearms,” she said. “It’s a scary prospect.”
At the news conference with Governor Hochul, Mayor Eric Adams of New York City noted that the police had recovered about 4,700 illegal guns so far this year and that there had been more than 1,200 shooting victims in the city through the end of August.
“To those with this insidious belief that you can have public safety with quick draw, who can draw their fire the fastest, that is just not a reality,” said the mayor, who served in the New York Police Department for 22 years.
Kenneth Sturtz contributed reporting from Oswego, Cole Louison from Ithaca and Hurubie Meko from New York City.