Gun-permit applicants don't need letters of reference for local police

If you've applied for a gun permit in New London, Norwich or Groton City lately, you know that police have been requiring that you provide three letters of reference.

Now those cities' departments will no longer ask for references after it was determined that state law does not call for them.

The ruling earlier this month by the Board of Firearms Permit Examiners concludes that state law does not allow police departments to require "additional materials" from permit-seekers not specified in state statutes. Those additional materials include credit checks, mental health forms and letters of reference.

Officials with the New London, Norwich and Groton City departments said they will no longer require the letters.

"Such letters are of little utility in the initial suitability determination inasmuch as they are solicited directly by the applicant from persons presumably friendly to him," the board wrote in its decision. "A careful analysis of the applicable law by this Board reveals no authorization for such requirements contained in the statutes."

Members of the Groton-based Connecticut Citizens Defense League, which represents 450 gun owners statewide, were named as parties in the decision and said they were "thrilled" with the ruling.

"It's a major victory when we try to get (local authorities) to be a little more reasonable and try to let them know they can't use whatever rules they feel like," said Bennett Prescott, public relations coordinator for the year-old club. "After you've already passed a check and proved you've done nothing wrong in your life, (asking for letters) is above what we think is reasonable."

Some police officials said the letters were helpful in conducting a complete check of the person seeking the permit.

"What the three letters did was, it gave us another tool to investigate the background," said New London police Capt. William D. Dittman, who is in charge of the permit applications. "If we don't require it, we'll have to do a little more investigating … to see if people feel this subject is basically fit to carry a gun."

Dittman pointed to a follow-up investigation with a reference submitted by a man applying for a permit. Police found out the man was going through psychological treatment after having served in the military, and one of his references told police that the man should not be allowed to have a gun, Dittman said. After police explained their concerns to the applicant, he withdrew his application, Dittman said.

Local authorities can issue a 60-day temporary permit after a person submits proof of completion of a firearms course and live training, proof of residency, proof that he or she is at least 21 years old, fingerprint cards for a criminal record check, an application and fees.

Within those 60 days, the permit-holder must then apply for a state permit that would be good for five years.

Norwich police Lt. William Molis, who is in charge of that city's gun permits, said the requirement proved more useful years ago.

"In an earlier age it was about the credibility of individuals. Nowadays, who can you trust?" he said. "But ... we're not going to withhold a pistol permit for someone who has a clean record based on (not having) three letters."

Groton City Chief Bruno L. Giulini said he hopes the ruling is challenged by a legal authority so that police can continue to use the letters as an investigative tool.

Groton Town Police Deputy Chief Michael Crowley said that of the 137 gun permits reviewed since July 2008, about 25 percent of the applicants brought letters on their own, even though the department did not require them.

But members of the Connecticut Citizens Defense League feel the requirement for the letters was unreasonable.

"If you think about it logically, who's going to get a letter from someone who's going to write a bad letter?" said Scott Wilson, president of the gun-owners' club. "This day and age, with computer backgrounds, they should have a pretty good indication whether someone is qualified."

m.naughton@theday.com

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