Fed Up: Gun Owners Sue Over Lengthy Licensing, Permitting Delays

Don Petersen

Since the start of the COVID pandemic last spring, plenty of government agencies have closed their offices to the public or limited hours and interaction with staff in an attempt to mitigate the spread of the virus. That’s perfectly understandable, but it’s also no excuse when those agencies fail to uphold their responsibilities to the citizens they serve. The Second Amendment activists at Grass Roots North Carolina are taking that argument to court with a lawsuit filed this week that accuses the Mecklenburg County sheriff of keeping both gun owners and those who’d like to purchase a handgun in a legal limbo for months on end.

Three people listed in the lawsuit applied for concealed handgun permits in Mecklenburg County over the last year and have waited months for appointments with the sheriff’s office.

Grass Roots North Carolina President Paul Valone said that in addition to significant delays with pistol purchase permits, the real impact is that residents are not able to legally purchase firearms.

“People are utterly being denied to keep and bear arms at precisely the moment they need it most,” Valone said.

North Carolina still has a remnant of Jim Crow on the books that requires would-be pistol purchasers to first obtain permission from their local sheriff, who can approve or deny the purchase based on their own subjective standards of “suitability.” Without a pistol purchase permit in hand, gun store customers are going to be turned away if they try to buy a handgun for personal protection, and the delays in Mecklenburg County have resulted in a months-long waiting period for legal gun buyers, even though state law requires Sheriff Garry McFadden to process pistol purchase permits within 15 days and gives him 45 days to approve or deny concealed carry licenses.

The Sheriff’s Office is currently processing a backlog of 5,902 purchase permit applications and is working on those received the week of March 19-26, according to its website. The office is processing 5,901 concealed handgun applications and is now reviewing those received the week of Jan. 25-29.

“They’re around seven months behind on concealed handgun permits,” attorney Ronald Shook, who is representing the gun rights groups, told the Observer.

The lawsuit asks a judge to order McFadden’s office to comply with the statutory requirements of state law and immediately issue both permits to qualified applicants.

The suing organizations have heard from members and supporters in Mecklenburg County about their inability to schedule appointments with McFadden’s office for the past seven months, with the earliest available times being in late December, the lawsuit said.

So not only is the sheriff’s office taking seven months to process these applications once they’re received, residents are facing an additional four month wait to simply apply for a carry license or pistol purchase permit.

This is clearly unacceptable, but it’s going to be up to the courts to declare these delays unconstitutional. Residents are being denied their right to both keep and bear arms thanks to the county’s inability or unwillingness to process these applications in the time provided under state law, and if the sheriff doesn’t have the staffing to handle the flood of applications the county government should divert resources and employees until they’re in compliance with the law. Since it doesn’t appear as if the Mecklenburg County commissioners are willing to do that voluntarily, it’s time for the judicial system to compel compliance. A right delayed is a right denied, and its unconscionable that folks who are trying to abide by the law are left twisting in the wind by county officials who seem to believe they themselves can violate the law without consequence.