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Pistol Permit Demand Reveals Safety Concern In Firearms Law

SUNDAY ON WFMY NEWS 2 AT 11: Meghann Mollerus digs deeper into North Carolina's pistol permit law, after learning a spike in demand has put more pressure on county resources. Find out the part of the law the Guilford County sheriff says needs fixing, after it caused a potentially dangerous situation.

GUILFORD COUNTY, NC -- These days, it's tough to find an open lane at Caliber's Indoor Range in Greensboro. Why? Data proves more people want to own guns -- especially after terrorist attacks.

"We’ve had classes where we’ve had to run 150 to 200 people in a class several months in a row to keep up with demand," said Caliber's president Carl Abbe.

"It’s picked up with a lot of the incidents going on. People are nervous," he added.

WFMY News 2's Meghann Mollerus obtained pistol permit application data. After the Paris terrorist attacks in November 2015, pistol permit applications in Guilford County almost doubled from the same month the year before. After the San Bernardino terrorist attacks in December 2015, pistol permit applications almost tripled from the same month the year before. Data collected from Randolph County showed similar trends.

Pistol Permit Comparisons by Meghann Mollerus

The North Carolina General Assembly revised North Carolina's Firearms Law (HB 562) in December 2015, making pistol permit applications more complex.

North Carolina Firearms Law by Meghann Mollerus

A sheriff's office has 14 days to approve or deny an applicant, as opposed to no deadline under the former law. Additionally, the clerk of court must send the sheriff's office a waiver, detailing an applicant's court records for mental health (for example, whether someone has been court-ordered to seek treatment at a mental hospital).

The potentially dangerous problem? The law doesn't give the clerk a deadline, like it does the sheriff.

"We have to wait for that response to come back from the clerk's office," said Guilford County Captain Tony Caliendo.

"If we don't receive that response within 14 days, statute (law) still requires us to make a determination," he said.

Caliendo said there was a two-week period early this year when the office had to issue permits without the mental health waiver. In that time, Caliendo said the office issued one permit that it later had to revoke, after receiving the mental health waiver.

"We had to adhere to the law, which we are going to do," said Guilford County sheriff B.J. Barnes. But basically, once we found out that person should not have had the permit, we went back and got it back."

Still, he acknowledges that for a period of time (undisclosed to WFMY News 2) a person had a permit who didn't pass the mental health check.

"I do see a danger or a risk here," Caliendo admitted.

"...where you’re making determinations that the legislation or the statute is quite clear, so there’s not much wiggle room for us to make a determination. And, obviously it didn’t take into account staffing levels in how these clerk offices could deal with it," he said.

Across the street at the Guilford County Courthouse, clerk of court Lisa Johnson-Tonkins told WFMY News 2 she didn't anticipate a surge in requests to process pistol permit applications.

"We are averaging about 1,500 a month," she said,

She has a one-person staff, at both the Greensboro and High Point courthouses, digging through 12 years of "special proceedings" files that haven't yet been computarized. Still, she said she doesn't think it has ever taken more than two weeks to get the mental health waivers back to the sheriff's office.

"There may be some lag time when we process them from Greensboro to High Point for them to do their check...and then back to the sheriff's office..." she said.

Remember, though, the clerk isn't under a time frame. The law doesn't give her one, like it does the sheriff.

Still, she, Caliendo and Barnes all agree that a simple revision of the law could prevent a potentially dangerous situation -- a permit being issued to someone who shouldn't have one.

"The legislature could fix it just as easily by saying we have 14 days after we get the paperwork (from the clerk of court) that we need to process it," Barnes said.

Rep. John Faircloth (R-Guilford County) co-sponsored HB562 (NC Firearms Law). He issued this statement, in response to WFMY News 2's findings:

I have not had any discussion with the Sheriffs’ Association nor with any individual Sheriff on this particular matter. I understand their concern as you have explained it and am certainly willing to look into a possible amendment. This will probably have to wait until the 2017 session since we are up against filing deadlines for the current session. I will contact Sheriff Barnes office and discuss the matter with them. Thanks for your information and we can certainly talk further about this.

The NC Sheriff's Association is scheduled to meet with NC legislators May 31 and June 1. Barnes said pistol permits could be a topic of discussion.

Meanwhile, back at Caliber's, Abbe expects to keep shelling out a sense of safety.

"They (people who want guns) want to be able to defend themselves. Things happen in a matter of seconds."

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