What does one do about a sheriff who refuses to obey the law? Answer: Sue him as many times as it takes.
Although North Carolina pistol purchase permits (PPPs) and concealed handgun permits (CHPs) are being issued on a timely basis in ninety-eight counties, two urban sheriffs insist on flouting the law.
Because it’s illegal to transfer a handgun in North Carolina without either a PPP or a CHP issued by the sheriff of the transferee’s county — including for private sales — citizens in these counties have been completely denied the right to obtain handguns for self-protection.
The first problem appeared in Wake County where Sheriff Gerald Baker, citing COVID-19, announced he was suspending issuance of permits. Because statutes require PPPs to be issued within 14 days and CHPs within 45 days — without exceptions for pandemics or anything else — Grass Roots North Carolina (GRNC), the Second Amendment Foundation, and the Firearms Policy Coalition joined to file suit. After three suits against him, Baker is now obeying a consent order to issue permits as required by law.
Next came Mecklenburg County Sheriff Garry McFadden, who seems to think he’s smarter than the rest of us. (He is, after all, the star of the reality show “I am Homicide.”)
With issuing times for PPPs running more than six months and CHP application times over a year, McFadden claimed he was too short staffed to process the proliferation of permit applications resulting from the riots and explosion of violent crime in 2020 and 2021. (In truth, delays in Mecklenburg County started not in 2020, but in 2018.) In particular, he required appointments to take the fingerprints required for CHPs, with appointment delays running eight months or more.
In August of 2021, GRNC sued, this time in conjunction with Gun Owners of America (GOA). Because the wheels of justice turn slowly, it was May of 2022 before we got a preliminary injunction requiring McFadden to, among other things, process PPPs and CHPs within the times required by law.
Despite the final consent order requiring McFadden to take fingerprints on a walk-in basis and McFadden claiming to be caught up on applications, complaints continued to roll in, with CHP applicants reporting processing times of a year or more. At present, McFadden’s office admits a backlog of 7,116 applications.
This time, McFadden claims a new excuse, insisting the delay isn’t from his office, but instead from facilities to which he sends requests for mental health records for CHP applicants as permissible under N.C.G.S. 14-415.15.
But why should this be a problem in only one of our 100 counties? As we investigated the new complaints, McFadden’s subterfuge became clear.
The statute doesn’t stipulate where the sheriff can request mental health records. While other sheriffs check local court records and, in some cases, local mental health facilities, McFadden submits record requests to the Veteran’s Administration for all applicants, regardless of whether they served in the military, effectively flooding the VA with record requests for non-veterans it has no obligation to serve. As a result, the already over-burdened VA is running months behind in processing requests.
McFadden claims a need to process all applicants through the VA because “not everyone discloses their military status on their application.” In truth, the VA has been reporting veterans disqualified from owning firearms to the computerized National Instant Background Check System (NICS) since 1998. Because N.C.G.S. 14-415.13 requires sheriffs to do NICS checks for all concealed handgun applicants, McFadden already has access to the VA information, making his attempt to flood the agency with requests not only redundant, but malicious.
While McFadden will doubtless claim the vague statute gives him discretion to request mental health records wherever he wishes, a recent Supreme Court decision says otherwise. In New York State Rifle & Pistol Assn., Inc. v. Bruen, that state’s handgun permit law was struck down as unconstitutional due to its subjective “good cause” requirement. Although ours is a non-discretionary “shall issue” system, the Bruen decision also says: “…because any permitting scheme can be put toward abusive ends, we do not rule out constitutional challenges to shall-issue regimes where, for example, lengthy wait times in processing license applications or exorbitant fees deny ordinary citizens their right to public carry.” [Emphasis added.]
In light of the Bruen decision, GRNC and GOA filed the latest suit on Nov. 28. You can see it at www.grnc.org/mecklenburgsuit. In the Wake County suit, Sheriff Baker had to cough up nearly $27,000 of taxpayers’ money to cover our litigation costs. How much McFadden’s malfeasance will cost the taxpayers of Mecklenburg County remains to be seen.