There is trouble brewing for state agencies and bureaucrats allegedly using the coronavirus pandemic as an excuse for holding up new concealed carry applications, and it has already resulted in legal actions in Georgia, and the fear of lawsuits in neighboring Florida.
At issue are agency “suspensions” of new license applications because they involve taking fingerprints from applicants, and that involves close contact between agency staffers who are qualified to take prints, and the applicants. There are currently three lawsuits filed in Georgia, two by Georgia Carry and one by the Second Amendment Foundation and Firearms Policy Coalition.
Knowing of those federal lawsuits, Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody this week sent a letter to Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, warning her against delaying the processing of concealed weapon and firearm license applications.
However, FloridaPolitics.com is reporting that Fried sent a reply to Moody, insisting there has been no slowdown.
“Contrary to the misinformation you may have seen,” the Fried letter states, “there is no delay in processing applications. In fact, throughout these unprecedented challenges posed by COVID-19, our devoted Division of Licensing staff has processed 29,048 new applications and 25,742 renewal applications since March 1, with an average review time of 1 to 2 days.”
Yet, FloridaPolitics.come also reported, “Fried says the department will still accept new applications with fingerprints from a law enforcement agency or tax collectors’ office, the two other approved sites to get fingerprinted. Law enforcement agencies and tax collectors’ offices, the only other places with fingerprinting services valid for a weapons license, have also closed their fingerprinting services.”
This appears to be a “Catch-22”-type dilemma. Applicants need to be fingerprinted, but agencies allowed to do that aren’t taking prints because of the pandemic.
Marion Hammer, executive director of the Unified Sportsmen of Florida, issued an email alert to USF members alleging, “Clearly, Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried has exceeded her authority and is unlawfully exercising her own anti-gun political desires. Florida law is very clear and Nikki Fried should take the time to actually read the law.”
When SAF filed its lawsuit last week in U.S. District Court in Georgia, it named Gov. Brian Kemp, Georgia Department of Public Safety Commissioner Gary Vowell, Cherokee County, and County Probate Judge Keith Wood as defendants in their official capacities.
At the time, SAF founder and Executive Vice President Alan Gottlieb explained, “This is the most recent in a series of legal actions we’ve had to file around the country because we’ve discovered that some officials have arbitrarily decided the COVID-19 crisis allows them to suspend the Constitutional rights of the citizens they serve. We’ve been stunned by this pattern because such actions are not permitted by the Constitution. Authorities may not, by decree or otherwise, enact or enforce a suspension or deprivation of constitutional liberties.”
Out in Washington State, law enforcement agencies have suspended taking new applications, but most are accepting renewals because no fingerprinting is involved. But that could be a problem legally for sheriffs and police departments because of the language in state law that says “The issuing authority shall not refuse to accept completed applications for concealed pistol licenses during regular business hours.”
Law enforcement agencies could argue they’re following the law because nobody could possibly submit a completed application, since no agency is currently taking fingerprints. So far, nobody has threatened a lawsuit in the Evergreen State, but the pandemic isn’t over, yet, and applications for new concealed pistol licenses have not been accepted for almost two months. At last report, more than 650,000 Washington citizens had active CPLs, but since the application suspension, the number has crept downward because no new licenses are being issued.
According to the most recent estimate from the Crime Prevention Research Center, more than 17.6 million U.S citizens are licensed to carry. That doesn’t count the number of people who may live in one of the dozen states where no license or permit is required to carry openly or concealed.
Many grassroots gun rights activists suspect anti-gun officials in some jurisdictions may be using the pandemic to suspend Second Amendment rights. If that’s the case, the strategy has seriously backfired because, as reported recently by American Handgunner, the COVID-19 panic has brought many new customers to gun stores. People who never before owned firearms and may actually have supported gun control, evidently changed their philosophy when fears arose of a social breakdown.
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