In New York State, a person is allowed to own or possess many types of guns, including vintage firearms that use black powder. A gun owner must abide by federal, state and local laws regarding gun use and ownership.
The applicable state laws include New York Department of Labor (DOL) special provisions that relate to black powder. The reason these rules exist is because black powder is explosive, so mishandling it can result in injury or death.
What Is Black Powder?
Black powder is a mixture of saltpetre (potassium nitrate), sulfur and charcoal. The mixture should be prepared with the correct proportions: 75 percent saltpetre, 15 percent charcoal and 10 percent sulfur. The mixture burns quickly when it is lit. It produces 40 percent gaseous and 60 percent solid products, with the solid products appearing as white smoke.
In a confined space like the breech of a gun – the opening where the bullets are loaded – the pent-up gas can propel ammunition like a bullet or an artillery shell. Black powder must be ignited by flame or heat. Today, black powder has mostly been replaced by smokeless powder for guns, but antique guns that use black powder are still in use.
In addition, black powder is used in fireworks, signals and blank-fire charges in military ammunition. A blank-fire charge produces a flash and an explosive sound rather than propelling ammunition like a bullet. People use black powder guns for competitive shooting matches, individual target shooting practice and hunting.
What Are Black Powder Pistols?
Pistols and revolvers are handguns, short-barreled firearms that can be held and used with one hand. A handgun can be used for target shooting, hunting small game or self-defense. A black powder pistol uses black powder to fire the bullet.
This type of gun requires the user to manually load the powder, bullet and cap into the muzzle. Technically, it is a muzzle-loading gun. A gun owner may prefer a black powder handgun because it is cheap or has historical value.
Rules for Black Powder Firearms
New York DOL’s provisions apply to the transport, storage and sporting use of black powder in quantities of five pounds or less when the powder is used in an antique firearm, weapon or replica.
Black powder and black powder guns can be shipped into New York state, but the guns must be unloaded, and the vehicle can carry no other explosives. The firearms must be securely fastened to a portion of the vehicle or located in a case or box.
Transporting Black Powder Rifles
The box containing the firearms must be separated from the black powder box. Passengers other than the driver may be permitted in the vehicle provided the black powder is located in the trunk of the vehicle or otherwise separated from the passenger compartment.
Smoking is permitted by people driving or riding in the vehicle if the black powder is in the trunk of the vehicle or otherwise separated from the passenger compartment.
New York Gun Laws
A New York resident or visitor should familiarize themselves with all levels of gun laws before acquiring a firearm. The gun laws regarding the carrying and possession of guns apply to all types of guns, including black powder weapons. New York firearms licenses are state licenses, yet they are issued by county licensing officers. The most common types of firearm licenses are:
- Carry concealed.
- Possess on premises.
- Possess/carry during employment.
Eligibility for a Firearms License
In order to be eligible to get a firearms license from the state of New York, a person must:
- Be a New York state resident.
- Be at least 21 years of age.
- Have no prior felony or serious offense convictions.
- Be of good moral character, and not being convicted of an offense involving dishonesty, such as welfare fraud.
- Have a legally recognized reason for wanting to possess or carry a firearm.
- Be ready to open the business for which the license is being applied, if the license relates to a business.
The cost of each license varies by county. Typically it takes a minimum of four months from the time of application for a county to grant or deny a license. An individual should apply in the county in which they live or are principally employed.
Applying for a Gun License
A person should not bring their firearm into a licensing office unless they are requested to do so. They are required to submit a state of New York pistol/revolver license application (PPB3) to the appropriate office in their county. The PPB3 requests that the applicant provide their:
- Full name.
- Physical and mailing addresses.
- Date of birth.
- Social Security number.
- Physical description of themselves, including height, weight and ethnicity.
- Verification of U.S. citizenship.
- Present occupation.
- Name of business.
- Nature of business.
- Business address.
- Criminal history.
- Mental health history.
- Four character references who attest to the applicant’s good moral character.
- Form of identification.
- Reason they want the firearm.
Application Procedures Vary by Location
The office where the person submits the application may differ within a county. For example, in Suffolk County, a person should apply for a pistol license (not a pistol permit) with the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office, for the five east-end towns and with the Suffolk County Police Department for the five west-end towns.
In upstate New York, a person should apply to the County Court through the office of the court clerk, county clerk or sheriff. In Nassau County, a person should apply to the Nassau County Police Department.
New York City requires a gun owner to obtain a valid city handgun license. Owning a rifle or a shotgun requires that the person get a city-issued permit. In New York City, the New York Police Department License Division (Division) issues the license or permit.
Processing Times for Applications
The time to process an application depends on the location. The Division accepts online applications only for handgun licenses, rifle or shotgun permits and renewals. As of January 1, 2018, paper applications are no longer accepted.
COVID-19 pandemic precautions mean that Division offices are open for in-person visits only under limited circumstances. An in-person visit must be requested in advance by email. A person can receive their license in the mail.
Licenses Are Not Valid in Other Counties
A license issued in one county is not valid in another county. For example, a license issued in Nassau County is not valid in New York City. The license issued as a result of an application is valid only for a pistol or a revolver specifically described in the license issued by the licensing officer.
If a person permanently changes their address, they must provide a notice of the change and the new address to the licensing officer of their county within 10 days of the change. A firearms license is subject to revocation at any time by the licensing officer or any judge or justice of a court of record.
Firearms License Is Public Record
A firearms license is a public record. A person can request that their license be exempt from public records requests by completing a New York State Firearms License Request for Public Exemption form. They will need to provide:
- Date of birth.
- Firearms license number.
- Date license was issued.
- Licensing authority or county of issuance or application.
- Grounds why their information should not be publicly disclosed.
The grounds for which the information should not be publicly disclosed include:
- Applicant is an active or retired police officer, peace officer, probation officer, parole officer or corrections officer.
- Applicant is a protected person under a currently valid order of protection.
- Applicant is or was a witness in a criminal proceeding involving a criminal charge.
- Applicant is participating as, or previously participated as, a juror in a criminal proceeding or was a member of a grand jury.
- Applicant’s life or safety or that of their spouse, domestic partner or household member may be endangered by disclosure for another reason (which the applicant must state).
- Appplicant has reason to believe they may be subject to unwarranted harassment upon disclosure. The applicant is expected to provide supportive information as necessary.
False statements on an exemption request are punishable as a Class A misdemeanor. If the county discovers that an applicant knowingly provided false information, they may be subject to further penalties, and their request for an exemption will be null and void.
Short Barreled Rifles
A short barreled rifle (SBR) is a rifle that has a barrel or barrels that are less than 16 inches long. It is illegal for a person to own an SBR in New York state. An SBR owner is required to notify the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) when transporting a short-barrelled rifle across state lines.
Ghost Guns Are Illegal
A ghost gun is a user-assembled firearm that is not visible to law enforcement. This type of gun is unregistered and unpermitted. A ghost gun is sold without a federally mandated serial number that would allow law enforcement to trace the purchase of a firearm recovered at a crime scene.
Under New York City and New York state laws, it is illegal to possess or sell a ghost gun or its central component, an unfinished or 80 percent frame or lower receiver. In 2021, the New York State Legislature passed Senate Bill S14A, the Jose Webster Untraceable Firearms Act. This act amended New York Penal Law to address the growing threat posed by unregistered, untraceable guns.
SCOTUS Ruling’s Effect
In June 2022, the U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) struck down a New York state gun safety law that requires a person to show “proper cause” to carry a concealed handgun outside the home. Only the proper cause requirement to conceal carry is no longer applicable. An ordinary citizen is deemed to have a self-defense basis for applying for a concealed carry permit.
No wording in the SCOTUS decision allows a person to immediately, legally carry a concealed firearm in New York state without getting the currently required permits or licenses, including a conceal carry permit. Further, a person cannot legally carry a concealed firearm outside of their home in New York state if they only have a license to possess a gun in their home.
A person who wants to change their permit status to get an “unrestricted conceal carry” permit is required to file an application with their local licensing authority.
Effects on Firearms Restrictions
SCOTUS recognized that New York state may continue to require licenses for concealed firearms. The license requirements must clearly lay out who can carry, where they can and cannot carry, and the types of firearms to which residents have access. The state may also restrict the carrying of firearms in sensitive locations and otherwise restrict how firearms are carried.
In July 2022, New York state legislators drafted the Concealed Carry Improvement Act. This new law restricts the use of legally permitted guns in public places. It further restricts the permit application process.
In addition, the act declares many spots in the state to be “sensitive locations” that do not allow a person to carry a concealed weapon. Despite the SCOTUS ruling and New York state’s response to it, other New York laws regarding gun ownership and black powder guns remain valid.
- Encyclopedia Britannica: Gunpowder
- U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms: Firearms Guide - Identification of Firearms - Section 5
- New York City: Complaint for Injunctive Relief Re: Illegal Ghost Guns
- New York Department of Labor: Explosives Laws
- City of New York: Gun Laws
- City of New York: Gun Permit
- New York Police Department: Firearms Licensing
- New York Police Department License Division: Instructions
- Suffolk County, New York: Pistol License / Permit Information
- New York State Senate: Senate Bill S14A, Jose Webster Untraceable Firearms Act
- Spectrum News NY 1: Supreme Court Strikes Down New York Concealed Carry Law
- New York State Senate: Senate Bill S51001, Concealed Carry Improvement Act
- New York State: Apply for a Firearms License
- State of New York: Pistol/Revolver License Application
- Nassau County Police Department: Pistol Licenses
- Nassau County Police Department: NYS Firearms License Request for Public Records Exemption
Jessica Zimmer is a journalist and attorney based in northern California. She has practiced in a wide variety of fields, including criminal defense, property law, immigration, employment law, and family law.