by Bob Barr
Second Amendment watchdogs have long cautioned that gun permitting processes easily can be exploited as backdoor gun control. As we know, when it comes banning guns, liberal government bureaucrats never lack the will, only the way. For these petty tyrants, COVID-19 has been something of a godsend. Not only were there suddenly multiple new ways to go after the Second Amendments, but they had a “scientific” excuse.
One layer of bureaucratic meddling that has become particularly troublesome during COVID is pistol purchase permitting schemes, as currently are in place in Washington, D.C., and 10 states. A pistol purchase permit is exactly what it sounds like; a requirement that you must have permission from the government each time you want to exercise the most basic component of the Second Amendment: purchasing a firearm. These permits add time and money to a process that should be nothing more than a simple exchange of information between two law-abiding adults. For some, however, it provides a way for sneaky government officials to shut down the Second Amendment under the cover of bureaucratic inefficiencies.
Take Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, formerly a conservative, pro-Second Amendment county with Charlotte as its major metropolitan area.
At one point last September, the Sheriff’s Office in Mecklenburg County was more than 11,000 gun purchase permit applications behind after being flooded in a single day with more applications than it normally sees over the course of months prior to COVID. Other North Carolina counties experienced similar spikes in permit applications (even as countless cities and counties across the country saw increased firearms purchases all last year).
Regardless, and irrespective of how many applications have been made, North Carolina state law requires that county sheriffs notify applicants of whether a permit has been granted or denied within 14 days. In violation of that legal mandate, however, permits that are supposed to take no more than two weeks to conclude are now stretching into months.
In Wake County, also in North Carolina, the Sheriff’s Office has been sued multiple times by a local Second Amendment organization trying to compel it to abide by the law. Yet, as multiple lawsuits suggest, these are often and at best limited and temporary victories. Sheriffs excuse their abysmal performance by citing both COVID limitations and the surge of gun purchases following months of violent unrest last summer and political unrest accompanying the presidential contest.
Events in 2020 certainly and understandably made the permitting process more complicated; however, there is no COVID exception to the Second Amendment (or to North Carolina law, for that matter).
Facing such intransigence by the chief law enforcement officials in various counties as the chokepoint for being able to exercise Second Amendment rights, what remedy does the citizenry have — allocate more funding, hire more staff, process more applications. Do whatever it takes to meet the legal requirements to which these officials are beholden, or else strike from the books laws that should have never been put there in the first place.
Today, it is COVID. What comes next? What is to stop these bureaucratic processes from becoming a pocket veto for citizens’ Second Amendment rights? This is accomplished already in many jurisdictions by way of requirements to show “cause” in order to obtain carry permits. Washington, D.C. denied 77 percent of its concealed carry applications prior to a court ruling forbidding it to use the vague “cause” standard for permit issuance. But how much easier is it to simply not process permits in the first place?
That this disturbing trend continues to occur in North Carolina is concerning. If it can happen in the South, historically far friendlier to the Second Amendment than other parts of the country, what else is possible now that COVID has shown bureaucrats just how far government power can be stretched without any real consequence?
These permitting bottlenecks as in the Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s department also raises an increasingly uncomfortable issue on the Right: The growing rift between Second Amendment activists, and a group they have traditionally viewed as a natural ally – law enforcement. In my article next week, I will outline why gun control puts conservatives and police in many respects at odds with one another.
Bob Barr represented Georgia’s Seventh District in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1995 to 2003. He served as the United States Attorney in Atlanta from 1986 to 1990 and was an official with the CIA in the 1970s. He now practices law in Atlanta, Georgia and serves as head of Liberty Guard.