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Erie County pistol permit transactions up 41%, as gun homicides rise

A gold and black PISTOL PERMITS sign outside an office door.
Mike Desmond

The legal gun business in Erie County has been very good in the last two years, according to the annual report from the County Clerk's office.

Looking back at last year, Clerk Michael Kearns said his Pistol Permit Office processed 41% more transactions and generated 7% more revenue than in 2020. Since this is New York, he said none of these are permit renewals, although they can be additional weapons purchased by someone who already has a permit.

Under the much-disputed SAFE Act, renewals are handled outside of the offices of any county clerk. Each clerk takes applications and processes them, arranges background checks and has a judge available to review and approve permits.

Kearns said there were a lot of those new permit applications.

"Those are all new pistol permit applications," he said. "That means 5,627 people in Erie County applied for the pistol permit. In the previous year, it was 7,177. So those are all new pistol permit holders."

Kearns said applicants are a cross-section of the county, although there seem to be more women applying, but it's hard to tell since that isn't tracked in the applications. However, there was one reason most cited.

"Personal Protection," he said. "It's been a turbulent time over the past couple years. So, just for protection alone, people want to feel safe."

Indeed, the rate at which Americans were killed in gun homicides leapt by nearly 35% in 2020 to the highest level in more than 25 years, according to new research by the CDC. In 2020, the firearm homicide rate was 6.1 per 100,000 Americans — up from 4.6 a year earlier.

Overall, the Clerk's Office processed $167 million in permit and other transactions last year, generating a $6.5 million surplus that goes into the county treasury. Much of this reflects real estate and associated banking transactions valued at $2 billion.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.