Only in New York: Bribing cops for a gun license

Voices from the gun show: High capacity magazines
Voices from the gun show: High capacity magazines

Buying a gun in America can be an expensive ordeal. Or it can be cheap and easy. It depends on where you live.

The difference between those two Americas was made clear earlier this month when Alex "Shaya" Lichtenstein, a member of a Orthodox Jewish patrol society in Brooklyn, was charged with offering an police officer a $6,000 bribe to expedite handgun licenses for his clients. He claimed his clients would pay him $18,000, according to a court document.

Bribing cops for gun licenses could only happen in a place like New York. In most other parts of the United States, licenses are not even required or handguns.

"New York City, as a major city in the U.S., is one of the most restrictive cities in the country concerning gun licensing laws," said retired police officer Stephen D'Andrilli, a former NYPD cop who is now a consultant for clients seeking handgun licenses.

The licensing system is meant to filter out dangerous applicants, like those with a history of domestic violence. But D'Andrilli, who extolls the "utmost importance" of the Second Amendment through his website the Arbalest Quarrel, said the restrictive laws of New York have created an environment that allows a black market to exist.

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"What they're doing is they're creating a privilege for having a gun and licensing it and they're creating this prohibition style system where people are paying someone off to get a gun," he said.

Prosecutors say Lichtenstein was "bragging that he had already used his NYPD connections to obtain 150 gun licenses." When asked if this is true, Lichtenstein's lawyer declined to comment to CNNMoney.

While New York's licensing system can be daunting for gun owners, lots of people have them. The New York Police Department says there are 42,346 active handgun permits in the city.

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Even in states without licensing laws, there are federal laws that ban felons from owning guns. Customers who buy guns from federally licensed dealers must undergo a background check with the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Convicts will sometimes try to circumvent this system by getting straw purchasers with clean records to buy the guns for them, but doing so is illegal.

Only seven states, including New York, require licenses to own guns to add an extra layer to the federal vetting process, according to data from the NRA and the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. And some cities, such as New York, require their own city licenses that are particularly difficult to negotiate, especially for applicants with any sort of criminal record -- including traffic infractions.

NYPD application fees are $340 for gun licenses, with an additional fingerprint fee of $89.75. But the real cost is typically thousands of dollars, as applicants pay lawyers to help them negotiate the bureaucracy.

Gun control experts say that only Chicago, San Francisco and Washington, DC, have handgun licensing requirements tough enough to rival New York.

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Lichtenstein, who could get up to 10 years if convicted, was allegedly working to expedite the licensing process for legally tainted clients. Those clients might not have been able to get the licenses through legitimate means.

Erika Soto Lamb, spokeswoman for the Bloomberg-sponsored gun control group Everytown for Gun Safety, praised New York's laws and dismissed the bribery case as "an anomaly."

Lamb said the Lichtenstein case "is hardly sufficient evidence to merit this level of attention or to indict the strong gun laws that make New York City one of the safest large cities in the country."

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