Let me state right up front that I hate the fact that North Carolina even has a pistol purchase permit requirement in the first place. I think the law is a remnant of the Jim Crow-era and should have been repealed long ago, but for now all prospective handgun owners in the state are required to apply for permission from their county sheriff to purchase a pistol. Over the past few months, several counties have struggled to keep up with the demand from residents, which has resulted in months-long delays for folks trying to exercise their right to keep a handgun in their home for self-defense.
In Mecklenburg County (which encompasses Charlotte and several of its suburbs), Sheriff Gary McFadden says he’s authorized overtime and brought in staff from other departments to help with the surge in applications, which are running almost 400% above 2019 numbers.
According to the Sheriff’s Office, prior to March 2020 purchase permit applications averaged 1,506 per month for the Fiscal year 2020 and 1,130 for the Fiscal Year 2019.
Since March, the average climbed to an average of 4,698.
Last Friday, the Sheriff’s Office said it registered the highest number of outstanding applications ever with 11,038 applications.
Additionally, staff are working to process applications and are processing applications as of June 29, 2020.
To put that bolded sentence into perspective, the current backlog of pistol purchase permits in Mecklenburg County is almost as high as the total number of permits that the office processes over the course of an entire year.
While I appreciate that McFadden is doing what he can to try to speed up the pistol purchase permit process, the fact remains that the sheriff’s office is currently running three months behind. State law in North Carolina requires that sheriffs process these applications within 14 days, and there is no exception for staffing issues or increased demand, as Grass Roots North Carolina’s director of legal affairs Edward Green noted several months ago when demand first began surging and many sheriff’s offices simply stopped taking applications during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The sheriff of every county in NC shall issue a PPP to a law-abiding citizen of good moral character within 14 days. This is state law,” Green wrote. “The sheriff’s office has no discretion in accepting applications or processing them. If an investigation uncovers a specific, statutorily enumerated reason an applicant should not receive a PPP, the sheriff must list such reason – and the statute – in writing – also within 14 days.”
Of course, North Carolina state law also doesn’t provide any sanctions for agencies that fail to meet the deadline, which is another problem. Several lawsuits have been filed against county sheriffs in recent months, but it’s clearly time for the state legislature to act and repeal the pistol purchase permit law entirely.
Not only is the Jim Crow-era pistol purchase permit law ripe for abuse by allowing a sheriff to determine if a prospective gun buyer is of “good moral character,” there are tens of thousands of North Carolinians who are currently twiddling their thumbs while they wait for their local government to sign off on them exercising their constitutionally-protected rights.