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RALEIGH — The Wake County Sheriff’s Office is temporarily suspending the purchase of pistol permits through April 30, saying it needs time to process a surge of new applications.
“This decision does not limit anyone’s right to purchase a handgun,” said Wake County Sheriff Gerald Baker in a statement. “Over the past several weeks, our staff has been inundated with high volumes of permit applications that has made it impossible to process by law.”
Baker announced the decision Tuesday along with several other initiatives from the department designed to limit the spread of COVID-19.
As of Tuesday, there were 775 applications pending, according to a sheriff’s office press release. State law requires the sheriff to decide whether to issue a permit within 14 days of receiving an application.
Each application requires the Wake County Clerk of Courts to make a background check. The clerk’s office does not have enough staff to keep up, the press release said.
“This decision is not a violation of anyone’s Second Amendment rights. Most importantly, this action will limit persons encountering one another during this time of State of Emergency, consistent with Gov. Roy Cooper’s Executive Orders and that of Wake County Commissioner Greg Ford,” Baker said.
The suspension will allow the backlog to be processed, he added. The announcement does not affect residents who possess concealed carry renewal permits.
“With 290 people coming into the permits office per day, the Sheriff’s Office would not be able to meet the 14-day requirement,” Baker said.
The announcement sent off a flurry of objections from gun-rights advocates who claimed the suspension is unconstitutional. Some state lawmakers joined in.
“People are already suspicious and on edge. It’s reckless to illegally suspend their Second Amendment rights just when they need assurance that they can trust government,” wrote Sens. Warren Daniel (R-Burke) and Danny Britt (R-Robeson) in a joint statement.
“We will also be urging our colleagues in the legislature to take action during the short session to address this illegal behavior.”
Donald Bryson, president of Raleigh-based concervitive think tank Civitas Institute, also said in a statement that Baker did not have the authority to halt the purchase of firearms or issuance of pistol permits. He claimed the sheriff was using the permitting process to impose a de facto ban on gun sales.
“All he has done with this arbitrary order is to prevent law-abiding citizens from exercising a right explicitly laid out in the state and federal constitutions,” Bryson wrote. “A public health crisis is not the time to make up excuses to exceed the limits of governmental power.”
In a similar move, the Guilford County Sheriff’s Office announced it would pause the processing of concealed carry permits, and is issuing pistol permits only through the mail. That office also cited COVID-19 and social distancing as reasons for the temporary change.
In Wake County, all incoming jail inmates will automatically be separated into an area that serves as “almost an automatic quarantine,” Baker said.
The sheriff’s office created a COVID-19 Staff Support Services Team for its employees, Baker announced. The team asked five deputies, five detention officers and one telecommunicator to self-isolate for at least 14 days starting Wednesday because they are either showing flu-like symptoms or have a spouse who is in isolation.