Public Safety

‘Perfect storm’ stokes gun debate

Thousands of people in Mecklenburg County have applied for pistol purchase permits in December and January, flooding the system.
Thousands of people in Mecklenburg County have applied for pistol purchase permits in December and January, flooding the system. AP

If you’ve been reading the crime stories in this newspaper over the past few months, you can probably see snippets of the debate over guns raging in our country.

State, national and local leaders are trying to figure out the right balance between protecting gun rights and safeguarding people from gun crimes.

Taking a deeper look, I’ve learned a few things:

It takes longer today to get a gun permit in Mecklenburg County

Because of what Mecklenurg Sheriff Irwin Carmichael called “a perfect storm” of events, if you go to the Sheriff’s Office and apply for a pistol purchase permit, it could be four months before you’re able to actually buy the gun.

The slowdown is due in part to a law that sought to allow applicants to get guns faster. In December, the N.C. legislature amended the pistol purchase law, giving county sheriffs 14 days to approve or deny a gun permit.

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

A day after the law went into effect, the terrorist attacks in San Bernardino, Calif., sparked a national dialogue about whether we need more stringent background checks for gun purchases.

The result: Thousands of people in Mecklenburg have applied for pistol purchase permits in December and January, flooding the system.

Carmichael said he won’t release pistol permits until he has all the information about a person’s mental health background. He also plans to lobby the legislature to amend the law, giving him more time to return pistol permits. And the clerk’s office is asking the county and the state for more money to add staff to process mental health checks.

Gun store owners are conscientious, and a little nervous

I’ve spoken with a number of gun store clerks after a Charlotte man was charged with trying to smuggle guns to the West African nation of Ghana.

Almost all of the clerks and owners spoke to me anonymously, but they were fervent that they’re not just a rubber stamp for potentially dangerous people who want to buy guns.

In addition to making sure someone fulfills all the requirements, one clerk told me he watches the demeanor of potential clients. Another clerk won’t sell a gun to someone who also wants to buy a large amount of ammunition. Clerks also say it’s fairly routine to notify law enforcement if someone buys more than one gun in a week.

Criminals get guns from careless folks

Law enforcement authorities say it’s rare for a concealed permit holder to be charged with a violent felony. Still, the bulk of last year’s homicides were committed with handguns.

Police hinted at one of the reasons when they released crime statistics for 2015: Careless gun owners can play a part.

In 2015, police said at least 376 guns were stolen from vehicles that had been broken into. And more than a third of all thefts from vehicles involved cars that weren’t locked.

Related stories from Charlotte Observer

  Comments