If you’re looking for an example of how pistol permitting schemes can be manipulated to indefinitely suspend Second Amendment rights, look no further than Wake County, North Carolina.
Wake County Sheriff Gerald Baker is facing a new lawsuit alleging that the sheriff is unconstitutionally delaying pistol permits beyond the 14-day time frame required by law. In some instances, residents are being forced to wait 30-45 days to obtain their permits.
The suit is being brought by the gun-rights group Grass Roots North Carolina (GRNC) on behalf of several plaintiffs, some of whom hope to become first-time gun owners to defend themselves against recent civil unrest.
“In recent weeks, GRNC’s office has been flooded with complaints from people who want to buy handguns for protection against riots spreading across the country but are unable to do so because Sheriff Gerald Baker refuses to process pistol purchase permits within the 14 days required by law, effectively denying citizens their right to keep and bear arms,” the group said in a press release.
The sheriff argues that the 14-day deadline only starts when an applicant has submitted a medical release form and photo identification. But applicants have been unable to schedule the in-person meeting at which these documents must be submitted.
In addition, GRNC argues that a more reasonable interpretation of the statue would start the countdown when the applicant first submits their online application. The North Carolina statute requires the application to be either accepted or rejected within 14 days “from the date of application.”
“The plain meaning of ‘date of application’ is the date on which an applicant submits an application,” the GRNC states in its suit. “The Wake County Sheriff’s Office, under the direct order of Sheriff Gerald Baker, has adopted a tortured definition of the date of application, allowing it to completely ignore the 14-day limit, flaunting the will of the legislature.”
Sheriff Baker has also argued that the increased interest in firearm ownership during the COVID-19 pandemic has kept his office from processing applications in a timely manner. Local media reports that the sheriff’s office has processed 8,000 more applications between January 1 and July 24 this year than they did last year.
But the GRNC is refusing to accept this excuse, calling any delay in the 14-day time period “unconstitutional.”
“The statue does not permit extension of the 14 days due to the number of applicants, a hurricane, civil unrest, a pandemic, or any other condition that makes compliance with the 14 days inconvenient for the Sheriff’s Office,” the group says in its suit.
The GRNC also points out that Sheriff Baker’s office changed its application process on March 25, 2020. Prior to this date, applicants could submit their medical release form and ID online, as residents of other counties currently can.
Now, Baker is forcing residents to submit these documents in person, but they can only visit his office when they have secured a meeting. According to GRNC plaintiffs, that meeting is almost impossible to schedule.
“Sheriff Baker seems to think he is above the law. Grass Roots North Carolina intends to prove otherwise. Since Baker doesn’t seem to be getting the message, we will deliver it loud and clear. We are also holding Wake County responsible for its refusal to stop Baker’s continued malfeasance,” GRNC President Paul Valone said in a statement.
This isn’t the first time Baker has been sued for his refusal to process pistol permit applications. In March, Baker said he would suspend all permit application processing due to the pandemic. A court ruled that he could not suspend all applications, so he agreed to modify the application process to require applicants to submit their final documents during a pre-scheduled meeting.