No, unfortunately this is not a repeat of a headline from March. On Tuesday, the sheriff’s office in Harnett County, North Carolina announced a complete shutdown of the processing of concealed carry applications for the next two weeks because of COVID-19 concerns.
In the spring, as the coronavirus pandemic’s first wave was sweeping across the country, many cities and counties suspended processing license applications. That, along with a surge in demand, has led to months-long delays in many places, and the problem is going to get exponentially worse if other agencies begin shutting down their licensing departments again.
Sheriff Wayne Coats said the move comes under the advice of the Harnett County Health Director Josh Rouse.
All fingerprinting services, including concealed carry applications and employment fingerprints, are suspended until Nov. 23, Coats said.
Citizens will once again be assisted at the sheriff’s office door and not allowed inside.
“We are making every attempt to contact those who have appointments until November 23rd to advise them of the cancellations,” Coats said. “This is an unfortunate situation, but please bear with us as we attempt to provide services to the citizens of Harnett County while maintaining a safe and healthy work environment.”
This is the first report of a sheriff’s office completely curtailing applications that I’ve seen in recent months, but it could be a preview of things to come. We’re already seeing several European nations reenter lockdown, and governors like California’s Gavin Newsom are talking about re-imposing restrictions on businesses and individuals in counties where COVID cases are rising.
Don’t be surprised if we see more sheriffs and local police chiefs follow Harnett County’s lead in the coming weeks. Thankfully, there are already several lawsuits underway in multiple states challenging the lengthy delays in concealed carry or gun licensing applications that we’ve seen in places like Philadelphia; Wake County, North Carolina; and Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Those lawsuits give us a head start in the case of more coronavirus closures this fall, but there’s also room for state legislatures to act. As we reported earlier today, a state senator in Michigan has introduced legislation that would keep licensing departments open as essential workers, even during COVID shutdowns, and there’s no reason why similar bills couldn’t be introduced in statehouses from coast to coast.
The right to bear arms is a fundamental right, and one that becomes even more acute during times of emergencies. If the state is going to require a license in order to lawfully carry, then the government of that state must ensure that those licenses can be approved in a timely fashion. Otherwise, it’s failed in its responsibility to the citizens it purports to represent.
This is also obviously an argument in favor of constitutional or permitless carry. New gun owners in states like Arizona, West Virginia, Kansas, and Kentucky aren’t running into any issues when it comes to bearing arms in self-defense, because they don’t need a license to carry in the first place. As long as they’re legally allowed to own the gun, they can legally carry it.
Unfortunately, I don’t see Massachusetts or Illinois scrapping their gun licensing laws any time soon, at least not through the legislative process. Still, if I were a pro-2A lawmaker in a state that is having problems processing carry applications in the mandated time frame, I’d introduce a permitless carry bill on the first day of the 2021 session. It might not pass, but it might help to shine a light on the injustice that occurs when a citizen is left in limbo for months on end, unable to exercise their constitutionally protected right to bear arms because of delays in the government bureaucracy.