GUILFORD COUNTY — A dramatic increase in the number of requests to buy handguns or get concealed carry permits, combined with delays related to the ongoing pandemic, is creating concerns on the county and state levels.
The prolonged permit process and the surge in firearms sales was enough for gun dealer Jim Greene, owner of High Point’s Coins & Stuff, to call it quits.
“It’s such a hassle that I got out of the gun business,” Greene said. “You have no idea what you’ve got to go through to sell a gun. You’ve got to call the ATF. You’ve got to call the FBI. You’ve got to get each one of them to verify the people who fill out the application. They call you back maybe that day, maybe the next week.”
Greene said that when he decided to get out, he sent the guns in his shop to another gun dealer, who sold them all. Greene plans to give up his license to sell guns once a few pawned guns that customers have on layaway are reclaimed from his 1017 E. Lexington Ave. shop.
High Point ammunition supplier Outdoor Unlimited closed its retail store at 512 Townsend Ave. until further notice.
“We are experiencing high order volume. Orders placed now are shipping in two to three days,” according to its website. The website advises customers not to call or email about order status, saying the ammo dealer is shipping orders as fast as possible.
Guilford County Sheriff Danny H. Rogers recently asked the Guilford County Board of Commissioners to approve funding to hire two more full-time civilian employees in the gun permit section to assist the current four employees and supervisor with the work load.
Earlier this month, Rogers reassigned deputies and detention officers to help answer phones and process paperwork to allow gun permit employees to focus on concealed carry handgun and pistol purchase permits. The sheriff’s office also started cross-training other employees to handle the processing, including background checks.
Board Vice Chair Carlvena Foster of High Point said the high volume the sheriff’s office is processing is worrisome.
“I am understandably concerned about the dramatic increase in the number of pistol permits and concealed carry handgun permits the sheriff’s office has been handling given the current state of violence not just in Guilford County but across the United States,” Foster said. “It is certainly alarming to see the high volumes of requests in our county that were reported by the sheriff as it says to me that people are more fearful of gun violence and feel the need to be able to protect themselves and their families.”
Board member James Upchurch agreed the issue is national in scope.
“I don’t have any concern personally with the increase in pistol permits; I support the Second Amendment,” Upchurch said. “Right now we know, not just in our area but throughout the country, crime has increased and people have the right to protect themselves. If that’s what they need to do to feel safe, I encourage that as long as it’s done legally.”
Chairman Skip Alston also said he is not overly concerned.
“Everybody’s got a right to go through the class, and they have a right to the privileges that go with having a concealed weapon permit,” Alston said.
State lawmakers are considering an end to the pistol purchase permit system, which requires local sheriffs to sign off on handgun purchases. Rep. John Faircloth, former High Point police chief, was one of the sponsors of House Bill 398, which would do away with the pistol permit system. The proposal was unveiled last week in the N.C. House of Representatives, with support from the N.C. Sheriffs’ Association, and moved through an initial House committee on a divided vote.
“The pistol permitting process as it exists now is an obsolete, unnecessary hurdle to gun ownership,” Faircloth said. “We have other controls in place, such as the National Instant Background Check System, that ensure people are being properly vetted before purchasing a firearm. The NICS is so efficient that even the sheriff’s association has come out in support of H398.”
Gun rights advocates, who have pressed for the change for years, had faced opposition until now from the sheriffs’ association. Under the current system, anyone who doesn’t already have a concealed carry permit must file with a sheriff to buy a handgun. That’s not required for rifles.
The pistol purchase permit is no longer needed because of advances in the NICS that gun dealers run at purchase, according to Eddie Caldwell, the sheriffs’ association’s executive vice president and general counsel. After the administrative arm of the North Carolina courts system finished uploading involuntary commitment records in 2019, it created duplication between the pistol permit process and the national background check, Caldwell said.
Several Democrats, echoed by gun-control groups, said they fear the change will open a loophole since only licensed firearm dealers have to run background checks. Those are not required, for example, for people who sell a gun to a friend or to someone they meet at a gun show.
Gun sales across the nation reached a record level last year. While FBI background checks on gun buyers increased throughout 2020, the biggest increases overlapped with periods of social and political unrest in March, June, July and December.
In Guilford County, pistol permit requests surged over the past two years, reaching 21,257 from April 1, 2020-March 31, 2021, compared with 10,506 from April 1, 2019-March 31, 2020.
Concealed carry handgun requests nearly doubled in the same time period to 9,179 from 5,152.
The sheriff’s office experienced nearly a threefold increase when including the combined CCH and pistol permit requests from 2015-20, according to a press release from Rogers.
If the bill moving through the General Assembly wins approval, it would take pressure off the county board to fund more full-time employees to handle permits.
Upchurch noted hundreds of bills are proposed and never even voted on.
“I tend not to put too much stake in anything until I know it’s going to go to a vote just because there are so many bills out there we know will never get a vote,” Upchurch said. “And many of them, if they do go to a vote, won’t pass.”
Foster expressed concerns.
“Removing oversight of permits from the sheriff’s office will pose greater risk for public safety,” Foster said. “Allowing persons without any gun training who have never handled a gun or taken a concealed class and no knowledge of gun safety to purchase and carry a gun creates a very dangerous scenario for all of us.”
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