With gun sales soaring to record highs over the past several months, we’ve also seen a surge in demand for concealed carry licenses. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 coronavirus is causing major issues for some sheriffs departments, which typically are the agency that’s in charge of issuing the licenses. Some sheriffs are now encouraging applicants to make appointments, due to limited office hours, while others are warning that plunging tax revenue as a result of coronavirus-related business closures is already having an impact on their ability to process applications, as WOIO-TV recently reported in Ohio.
“Staffing is being cut because the counties don’t have sufficient revenue to pay for services coming in,” said Lake County Sheriff Frank Leonbruno.
Lake County currently is scheduling appointments out 90 days for concealed carry permits and for those who need to re-register.
“We had 600 some open appointments and they were filled within 24 hours,” Leonbruno said.
Officials at the Geauga County Sheriff’s Department said they are booked through January of 2021.
That’s nuts, and frankly, something’s going to have to give here. Either counties are going to have to reallocate some funds to ensure prompt issuance of licenses, or the state’s going to have to change the law to allow legal gun owners to carry without a license. Simply telling people that they can’t exercise their right to bear arms because the county can’t afford to process applications within the 45 day time limit imposed by Ohio law is an untenable position for the counties.
I don’t think this is a plot by anti-gun sheriffs to deny people their Second Amendment rights, by the way. I’m sure that most of these sheriffs are just as frustrated as applicants about the situation, though I’m equally as convinced that there are some who’ve used this as an excuse to slow-walk applications. Regardless of the reasons, the delays are still amounting to a restriction on a constitutional right, particularly for those who are applying for the first time.
The state of Ohio has, for the time being, extended existing concealed carry licenses for a period of 90 days in recognition of the impact that the coronavirus has had on the ability of sheriffs to process applications. Lake County Sheriff Frank Leonbruno says he believes the state should extend that for another 90 days at least, which sounds like a good idea to me. Prioritizing first time applicants over renewals could speed up some of the process as well, but right now the biggest problem is one of supply and demand; there are a lot of people demanding their right to carry while the staff needed to process the applications are in short supply.
The extension of existing concealed carry licenses came about through legislation, not executive action by Gov. Mike DeWine. If lawmakers are going to revisit the issue and extend that grace period another 90 days, they should really do something for those applying for a license for the first time as well.
The simplest solution would be to pass a permitless carry bill, though I suspect that might face an uphill climb even in the Republican-controlled legislature. Some lawmakers might not want to pick a fight over the issue, particularly given the fact that legal gun owners can openly carry in Ohio without a license. If these long delays amounted to a complete deprivation of the right to bear arms, it would be an easier lift, but since it’s possible to carry without a license, lawmakers may not want to take up a contentious issue like Constitutional Carry this close to the November elections.
Still, from what I’m hearing, legislators are aware of the issue and are looking at ways to help not just existing concealed carry licensees, but those waiting for their licenses as well. Given the number of new gun owners and concealed carry applicants who’ll likely be casting a vote in November, that’s the right thing to do from both a constitutional and political perspective.
While WOIO’s story focused specifically on Ohio, we’re likely seeing similar delays in other states as well. It’s not like the conditions that created the delays in the Buckeye State are only local phenomena, after all. The same budget shortfalls and surge in demand for concealed carry licenses are being seen across the country, so it wouldn’t be a shocking surprise if months-long waits were the norm in other jurisdictions as well.
Last thought: open carry might be an option for some gun owners during the summer months, but they’re going to want to put a jacket on at some point this fall, even though they still be months away from their application being looked at, much less approved. The argument that their right to bear arms isn’t being infringed gets a lot weaker when gun owners have to choose between the Second Amendment and staying warm.