Wake sheriff suspends pistol permits as state lawmakers cry foul

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RALEIGH — Wake County is temporarily suspending all pistol permit and concealed-carry services until April 30, and a pair of Republican lawmakers immediately raised red flags.

Harnett and Johnston counties have instituted similar measures due to COVID-19. The sheriff’s offices in both counties have halted access to new concealed carry permit and gun permit applications that require fingerprinting procedures until further notice. Concealed renewal applications will still be processed.

Sheriff Gerald Baker, who announced the move in Wake County Tuesday, March 24, said law officials are suspending the services to help stop the spread of the coronavirus within the government building and to give the sheriff’s office time to process a growing pile of applications.

Baker said he’s not telling people they can no longer get permits.

“What we’re doing is trying to stay in line with efforts to keep this virus out of this building,” Baker said in a news conference.

The office has seen a 250% increase in applications over the past week, he said.

Sens. Warren Daniel, R-Burke, and Danny Britt, R-Robeson, used state law in calling on Baker to end the nascent suspension.

“State law requires sheriffs to approve or reject a pistol permit within 14 days,” they said in a joint statement. “Sheriff Baker must immediately rescind his illegal decision to halt sale of pistols in Wake County.”

Lt. Scott Sefton of the sheriff’s office said the number of people seeking permits daily has gone from an average of 93 last year to about 290 now. He said the office has run some 1,250 applications in a week’s time, with more than 750 waiting to be processed.

Those applications will continue to be processed, Sefton said.

“People are already suspicious and on edge,” the lawmakers said. “It’s reckless to illegally suspend their Second Amendment rights just when they need assurance that they can trust government. We will also be urging our colleagues in the legislature to take action during the short session to address this illegal behavior.”

Jon Guze, director of legal studies at the John Locke Foundation, says Baker’s in a tough — albeit legally precarious — spot.

“He’s worried about his staff having to interact face-to-face with, and in many cases fingerprint, hundreds of applicants any one of whom could be carrying COVID-19,” Guze said.

“Concealed carry permits for sure, and ordinary purchase permits too, I think, require the purchaser to appear at the sheriff’s office,” Guze said. “It’s not unreasonable to want to avoid dealing face-to-face with hundreds of applicants right now. Nevertheless, as far as I can tell so far, the law is pretty clear. He has to issue within the prescribed time.”

One solution could involve moving the process online, though fingerprinting is required for concealed-carry permits.

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