Conservatives for years have warned about the dangers posed to the Second Amendment by regulatory chokepoints imposed by state and local lawmakers. They warned these processes could be unintentionally, or more likely intentionally, used to chill citizens’ Second Amendment rights. Over the last year in North Carolina, these fears have proved frighteningly prescient.
North Carolina is one of 10 states and Washington, D.C. that require a permit to purchase a pistol, which is processed and approved by the county sheriff after completing a background check on the applicant. State law requires this process to be completed within 14 days. Despite this legal requirement, however, in some counties the wait is now stretching into months. Unlike federal background checks, there is no “default” approval after expiration of the statutory window for processing.
County sheriffs, such as Mecklenburg County Sheriff Garry L. McFadden who rode into office on the 2018 “Progressive Wave,” claim the simultaneous factors of COVID-19-related work disruption and a historic surge in gun purchases, have put counties behind in processing pistol purchase permits. Thus, people should “just be patient.” In other words, the officials will get to the permits when it fits their priorities, and in the meantime, citizens should sit quietly and wait.
The lack of urgency to addressing what amounts to a denial of citizens’ Second Amendment rights is inexcusable. Consider the impact this bureaucratic bottleneck places on first-time gun purchasers in particular. If a person believes himself or herself to be in imminent danger, other than a long gun that is completely impractical for arming oneself outside the home, there is no option other than to hope and pray that their permit is processed in time. After all, who do citizens call when it is police breaking the law?
Adding to the absurdity of these regulatory hurdles is the fact that this government law-breaking is for the sake of upholding a process already made redundant by federal background checks performed at the time a rifle or pistol is purchased from a firearms retailer anywhere in the United States. The only reasonable conclusion that can be drawn about how and why these schemes remain on the books, is that they provide state and local gun-grabbers a tool by which to punish citizens seeking to exercise a fundamental right guaranteed by our Bill of Rights.
Sadly, the situation in North Carolina is not unique. Consider Maryland’s onerous purchase permit scheme, which is currently being challenged in court by the National Rifle Association. The NRA Institute for Legal Action (NRA-ILA) correctly asserts that Maryland’s regulatory requirements place financial and time burdens on applicants that are designed intentionally to “’intimidate’ law-abiding citizens and prevent them from exercising their Second Amendment rights.” As I have noted previously, such burdens fall hardest on working class and minority communities. Given the racist origins of gun control, this too seems intentional.
Such manipulation of the regulatory measures imposed by state and local governments to chill gun rights are consistent with gun control measures passed last March by the Democrat majority in the U.S. House. By requiring all firearm purchases, including private sales, to include a federal background check, while greatly extending the window in which these checks can be processed, Democrats have potentially created a de facto national waiting period of at least 20 business days (from the current three days), under the guise that background check systems cannot keep up with demand, an excuse that has demonstrably not been the case under the federal National Instant Criminal Background Check System (“NICS”) which has been operating for more than two decades.
Local sheriffs, like North Carolina’s McFadden, are able to undermine the federal system’s approval time constraints based on state statutes, which will remain in place unless and until those gun control laws are changed by voters or they are struck down by the courts as impermissible infringements on the Second Amendment.
These regulatory minefields are the battlefields on which the real war on firearms rights currently is being waged. Without a broad and decisive Second Amendment victory in the U.S. Supreme Court, which recent history suggests is unlikely to happen, citizens in many states and municipalities will remain at the mercy of local anti-gun officials.
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.