Either this is an amazing coincidence, or another piece of evidence that the Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office in North Carolina is playing games with the fundamental right to armed self-defense.
Charlotte news station WSOC-TV has been covering the lengthy delays in processing concealed carry permits in Mecklenburg County for several months; a delay that Sheriff Garry McFadden blames on the Department of Veterans Affairs for not quickly responding to requests for any mental health records. The problem with the sheriff’s excuse, according to a lawsuit filed by the 2A group Grassroots NC and Gun Owners of America, is that no other county in the state is experiencing the same issues. They blame the delays on McFadden, accusing him of intentionally slow-walking the application process by making irrelevant and unnecessary records requests,
North Carolina law provides that Defendants must issue concealed handgun permits (“CHP”) to qualified applicants “within 45 days after receipt of the [application] items . . . from an applicant, and receipt of the required records concerning the mental health or capacity of the applicant.” N.C. Gen. Stat. § 14-415.15(a) (2022). The statute further provides that “[t]he sheriff shall make the request for any records concerning the mental health or capacity of the applicant within 10 days of receipt of the [application] items.” Id. Clearly, by imposing these strict time frames and permitting no deviation, the statute contemplates that North Carolina CHPs are to be issued by North Carolina sheriffs promptly, and without delay.
In Mecklenburg County, however, Sheriff McFadden has chosen to deliberately abuse this time-sensitive licensing process, firing off numerous and irrelevant mental health records requests to all manner of state and federal entities, including the Department of Veterans Affairs (“VA”) – even when an applicant has never served in the military. Few if any other North Carolina sheriffs make such delay-oriented mental health requests before issuing CHPs and, not coincidentally, those sheriffs are able to issue or deny all CHP applications within the statutory 45-day window (if not much sooner than that). Yet what takes other North Carolina sheriffs days or weeks to accomplish, Sheriff McFadden drags out for anywhere from many months to over a year. In other words, Sheriff McFadden has seized on the discretionary latitude granted by the Mental Health Provisions to create and impose significant delays on the CHP process for law-abiding residents of Mecklenburg County, only to throw up his hands and claim that the months-long delays in receiving mental health records is completely outside of his control.
Which brings us to the case of firearms instructor Bryan Yerke, who’s one of thousands of Mecklenburg County residents who’ve seen their concealed carry licenses expire thanks to the sheriff’s slowdown. Yerke applied to renew his carry license last summer, well ahead of its expiration in September, but heard nothing from McFadden’s office until Tuesday afternoon, just a few hours after WSOC reporter Hunter Sáenz brought up Yerke’s situation in an interview with McFadden himself.
For months, Channel 9’s Hunter Sáenz has covered the challenges people face with getting gun permits approved in Mecklenburg County. Knowing he was going to talk with him, Sáenz asked for the sheriff’s office to weigh in on Bryan Yerke’s renewal — he asked them what was taking so long for it to go through.
By Tuesday afternoon, Yerke’s permit was finally approved. But the process to get there is what hundreds of others are still going through.
Yerke is a certified concealed handgun instructor. But since September of last year, by no fault of his own, his concealed handgun permit has been expired.
“Oh it’s definitely an unpleasant experience,” he said.
It meant he can’t carry his gun around, and later this month he could lose his gun permits in other states as well.
He said he did everything right last summer — he filled out the application and even paid the fee. But as of Tuesday morning, his application was still pending.
“I want the sheriff to obey the law,” Yerke said.
Then, after Sáenz started asking questions, Yerke’s permit was approved Tuesday afternoon. But there are many others who are still waiting.
According to the Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office, as of Monday, there were more than 3,000 unfulfilled concealed handgun permits.
In November, Sheriff Garry McFadden said he sends every applicant to the Veteran’s Administration as part of his mental health checks. Once an application is complete and all mental health checks are met, state law requires sheriffs to take less than 45 days to approve or deny a permit.
“We can’t make these institutions work any faster, we can’t demand them to work any faster. So that’s the clog,” McFadden said.
Data shows the sheriff’s office is still waiting to get mental health checks back from applicants who applied in March of last year. Yerke, who was caught up in that wait, said that’s not right. He doesn’t understand why his application needs to go to the VA because he’s not even a veteran.
“The Veteran’s Affairs office would have no information whatsoever on me,” Yerke said. “It doesn’t make any sense to me, unless you factor in that we may have a sheriff that just does not want to issue gun permits, period.”
Requesting non-existent mental health records from the VA and refusing to start processing carry applications until the agency tells the sheriff they have no such records sure sounds like a way to game the system and prevent people from exercising their right to carry, especially since any applicable records from the VA would already be submitted to NICS and would be discovered when McFadden runs a background check on an applicant.
The Grassroots NC/GOA lawsuit argues the records request are duplicative and completely unnecessary, and the fact that Yerke’s paperwork just happened to be completed the very same day that a reporter started asking questions about his application process should be a glaring red flag to the federal judge overseeing the legal challenge to McFadden’s policy and the state’s Mental Health Provisions that supposedly allow McFadden to sit on applications for months on end. So far a date for a hearing on the request for an injunction has not been set, but this is definitely a case for gun owners around the country to keep an eye on going forward.