Why Buckley Lost His Gun Permit

It took the NYPD 12 years to notice he hadn’t renewed it.

Buckley: No longer armed
Buckley: No longer armed

In the Aug. 3 New York Post, Brad Hamilton reports that many celebrities have had their New York City gun licenses yanked or been denied a three-year renewal. Among these are the tough-guy actors Chazz Palminteri, Paul Sorvino, and Steven Seagal, the comedian Joan Rivers, and … the conservative commentator William F. Buckley.

Chatterbox had no difficulty imagining circumstances in which show-biz figures would be denied permission to pack heat. But why would the New York Police Department deny a gun permit to the harpsichord-playing founder of the National Review? It seemed to Chatterbox that if Howard Stern and Don Imus were permitted to own guns—and according to Hamilton, they are—then the cops ought to have a very good reason to deny that same right to a longtime interviewer for the Public Broadcasting System.

It turns out they did.

“Bureaucratic slush,” Buckley explained when Chatterbox queried him by e-mail. He continued,

I got my gun permit in 1965 (also, round the clock police protection for 6 weeks), after a threat or two when I was running for [New York City] mayor. A few years later, I was asked to go downtown to sign something, which I did. That was while Reagan was Governor of California[i.e., sometime between 1967 and 1975]. I have had zero communications with the police people since then, I have my pistol permit in my wallet, and No One knows where the gun is.

Chatterbox asked when the permit expired. Buckley replied:

I have unearthed and examined segments. The latest says it expired on Nov 24, 1991. If you are doing a story, this lingers in my memory, to wit that of the 70-odd thousand pistol permits issued since the 1920s, there has not been a single record of an abuse.

Buckley’s statistic about New York City pistol permits is incorrect. Chatterbox couldn’t get a figure from the New York City Police Department, which says it doesn’t keep track of such information. But Andy Pelosi of New Yorkers Against Gun Violence, a local gun control group, was able quickly to provide Chatterbox with two separate examples from the last five years in which pistol-permit-holders killed their wives, children, and themselves. That surely falls under the rubric “abuse.” (Both murder-suicides, oddly enough, involved New York City policemen living in Orange County, N.Y. In both cases, the gun was privately owned—not issued by the police department.) With a little more time, Pelosi assured me, he could find more examples of crimes involving guns for which the user held a permit.

Let’s grant, however, that Buckley is right, broadly speaking, to say that holders of handgun permits are less likely to commit gun violence. Let’s further grant that Buckley is less likely to commit gun violence than any other conservative commentator. Still, shouldn’t it cause mild concern that the NYPD kept Buckley’s gun permit active 12 years after it was supposed to expire? It’s not as though Buckley is a difficult man to get in touch with. What’s more, the cops kept Buckley’s gun permit active after Buckley himself could no longer account for the gun’s whereabouts. By now it could be anywhere. Chatterbox shudders to think of the consequences should it have fallen into the hands of Jonah Goldberg.