WESTFIELD — The Westfield Police Department has created a new branch within the department solely to process and assist residents with firearms paperwork.
Chief Chris Battiloro said the unit was created out of need after the department received 480 applications for Firearm Identification Cards and permits to purchase firearms since March 1. In the entire year of 2019, the department had 230 applications.
Chief Battiloro said the department used to have a detective process the applications in addition to regular duties, but now Detective William Kleeman is assigned to the role full-time. Chief Battiloro said it was “a necessity due to the sheer volume of applications.” Detective Kleeman told the chief he was just starting applications from July at the beginning of October.
“We’re never seen something like this,” the chief said. “We are months behind on requests.”
The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System releases the number of firearm background checks it performs by state by month going back to November 1998. While not every background check directly correlates to a firearm bought, it is an indicator of how many people are interested in purchasing firearms. The number of background checks done in 2020, without data from November and December, is 133,788. This number already exceeds the totals from every year since at least 1999. The year 2016 — the last Presidential election year — also had a higher-than-average total of 121,853.
Eight of the top 10 highest firearm background check weeks, starting from November 30, 1998 to October 31, 2020, were from 2020.
Chief Battiloro said he believes the increase in requests is “not necessarily related to the pandemic.” Instead, he said, there are probably a number of factors playing into the increase. The recent election, for example, may have caused residents concern that laws will change and potentially make it more difficult to obtain a firearm, he said. So those who may want a firearm in the future may be applying in response to the election.
Jacob Friedman, a manager at RTSP, said he has seen an increase in customers at the local gun shop and shooting range.
“Election years are typically busy for our industry, but the addition of the pandemic and the social instability over summer increased the demand to levels we haven’t experienced before,” he said via email.
The process to obtain firearms identification and/or a handgun purchase permit is now electronic as well. The application process is simpler now, Chief Battiloro said, and the change may have encouraged people who have thought about obtaining a gun to apply for the proper paperwork. Going online was in the works before the pandemic, the chief said, but was definitely an act of foresight.
The online application process is laid out on the Westfield Police Department’s website. Residents must apply for one permit per handgun purchase. New Jersey law states a permit seeker can buy one handgun in a 30-day period and that permits last 180 days. Chief Battiloro said he is seeing more residents apply for six permits at a time, which means those applicants are buying the maximum number of guns possible in 180 days.
“That’s really not something we’ve seen previously,” he said.
Mr. Friedman said customers have been purchasing a variety of firearms. “We have seen an increase in demand for handguns, rifles and shotguns,” he said. “The industry is lacking the supply to meet that demand, so it is really whatever people can get their hands on when they visit our stores.”
Potential first-time firearm buyers need a Firearms Identification Card as well. Normally, those looking to obtain an ID need to get fingerprints taken, but due to Covid-19, Chief Battiloro said, residents can do fingerprinting later.
Mr. Friedman said he has mostly sold to first-time gun buyers and shooters. He also noted that first-time buyers have come from diverse backgrounds and zip codes, “but the driver has consistently been self-protection and personal responsibility.”
With the nationwide increase in gun applications and purchases comes the nationwide ammunition shortage. AMMO, Inc., a United States-based ammunition company, released a statement that it had a record backlog of more than $100 million in mid-October. Chief Battiloro said his own department is having a hard time purchasing ammunition.
“Luckily, we do stockpile ammunition going forward,” he said. “So we’re not in danger of running out.” However, he said, the department burns through ammunition during its officer qualifying testing, which each officer must do at least twice a year with both their on-duty weapon and any weapons they may have at home.
He said that officers qualified last week and that the department is struggling to replace the 9mm ammunition it uses for this purpose.
Mr. Friedman said RTSP also is seeing the effects of the shortage. He said the business has been able to source the major calibers for its ranges and training centers, but has had to limit the quantity customers are able to purchase.
“We’ve never seen a shortage like this since RTSP opened its doors in 2011,” he said. “If the demand stays at this level, we don’t expect ammo availability or pricing to return to normal anytime soon.”