Mecklenburg sheriff says law change is delaying handgun permits

Mecklenburg County Sheriff Irwin Carmichael.
Mecklenburg County Sheriff Irwin Carmichael.

Mecklenburg Sheriff Irwin Carmichael plans to petition N.C. legislators to amend the state’s gun laws to give his office more time to conduct mental health background checks on people who want to buy handguns.

The move, announced on Tuesday, comes as the sheriff’s office has been flooded with permits by people who fear tougher gun laws in the wake of the San Bernardino terrorist attacks, Carmichael said. Fourteen people were killed and 22 seriously injured in the Dec. 2 terrorist attack. Afterward, the president called for tougher gun laws and more stringent background checks in the wake of the shootings.

A day before the attacks, an amendment to North Carolina’s gun law went into effect, giving county sheriffs 14 days to approve or deny a pistol purchase permit.

The law also gave the Mecklenburg County Clerk of Court the authority to release mental health records for people who want a gun purchase permit, Carmichael said. But it didn’t provide money for more employees to perform those checks.

The result is a crush of permit requests, officials say. Since December, the Mecklenburg Sheriff’s Office has received 3,943 forms for pistol purchase permits and is awaiting 2,565 forms with completed mental health background checks from the clerk of court.

“I have to err on the side of safety,” Carmichael said. “We’re not going to issue a permit until I feel I have all the mental health information in my hand and can make the right decision.”

A spokeswoman for the Mecklenburg Clerk’s office said it will be asking for more help from the state and the county to deal with the crush of applications.

Prior to the law change, the clerk’s office processed an average of 136 requests a month, according to a news release. In January the Clerk received 2,456 requests. A spokeswoman said the backup is about four months long. Staff members have to hunt for paper records that might go back to the 1980s, the spokeswoman said. Each request can take up to an hour to handle.

“Our office has mobilized all available resources to address the explosive demand,” Elisa Chinn-Gary, Mecklenburg County Clerk of Superior Court, said in the news release. “However, those resources alone are insufficient to prevent delays. Our current wait time is four months. I have requested additional supports from state and the county officials and am exploring technology enhancements to expedite requests.”

Cleve R. Wootson Jr.: 704-358-5046, @CleveWootson