We’re already seeing delays of nine months or more in some cases, but with another round of COVID-related closures already underway in states from California to New Jersey, gun owners applying for their carry license or would-be gun owners in states like Illinois who need a permit to simply own a gun could soon see their wait time stretch out even further.
On today’s Bearing Arms’ Cam & Co, Amy Swearer of the Heritage Foundation joins me to talk about what the courts might have to say about the delays and how the permitting laws themselves impact our constitutional rights.
Swearer acknowledged that the good news for gun owners is that several legal challenges to the current delays are already underway, so if we do see another round of coronavirus-related closures, the courts are already primed to hear arguments on the constitutionality of the delays, and that means that the Supreme Court could potentially agree to hear a case while the permit delays are still a live issue.
As for the legal argument itself, Swearer says that while judges may be reluctant to toss out a state’s concealed carry or gun licensing law entirely, the plaintiffs challenging the delays in processing have a valid point. It’s not just gun owners who have a legal obligation under many of these statutes. Most issuing authorities at either the state or local level have their own responsibility to process applications in a timely manner, and if they’re not upholding their end of the law then there should be some sort of consequence.
Swearer believes it’s likely that courts could rule against departments like the Illinois State Police, ordering them to process applications by the time limit imposed by state statute, but enforcing any decision will be difficult. In Illinois, for example, the backlog of FOID card applications now has applicants waiting an average of 122 days for their gun permit application to be processed, though the state is obligated by the letter of the law to complete the process within 30 days of the application being received. If a judge were to declare that the state of Illinois must hire more workers to speed up the process, what happens if the Illinois State Police drag their feet in complying with the judicial order?
We’re swimming in uncharted legal waters here, since the last time the country dealt with a pandemic and public health orders that shuttered large swaths of the government was a century ago. Back then, concealed carry licenses weren’t really a thing, and FOID cards certainly didn’t exist, so it’s not like courts have a lot of precedent they can look back on when deciding if the months-long delays amount to an infringement on a constitutional right or are just an inconvenient part of living through a public health emergency.
I know what side of the argument I come down on, and we’ve already seen a couple of encouraging court cases from New England. In one case back in May, a federal judge ruled that Gov. Charlie Baker’s order to close Massachusetts gun stores violated the Second Amendment rights of residents, and another U.S. District judge in June ordered several police departments in Connecticut to resume fingerprinting applicants for a state gun license.
Our rights don’t disappear in a state of emergency. In fact, our need to protect ourselves may become more acute during those times. Certainly at the moment we see increased civil unrest and soaring crime rates in many cities, and it’s kind of hard to argue that our right of self-defense and our right to keep and bear arms is somehow less important or fundamental because COVID cases are rising as well, though that’s the position taken by many anti-gun politicians.
Be sure to check out the entire conversation with Amy Swearer in the video window above, and stick around after for even more Second Amendment news of the day, including an armed homeowner who thwarted an attempted burglary without ever having to pull the trigger.