Long waits for gun background checks are more than an inconvenience; they're a sign of incompetence

Regarding your recent editorial on the long wait gun buyers must endure while state police background checks are completed, I can agree that the Maryland gun community is very unhappy and that the government can't work miracles. But beyond that, there are a lot of problems with your view ("Background check backlog," June 11).

They start with your comparing this situation to a supply problem. Comparing it to the wait times at the Motor Vehicle Administration is a bit more accurate, but the equivalent would be more like the MVA asking people to wait three or four weeks to get their tags, and then telling them they can't drive the car until they arrive (there are no temporary tags in the gun world).

Every state has experienced a huge increase in firearms purchases since December, yet not every state is experiencing the same backlog in approvals. The only other state that I know of that still has a large backlog is New Jersey, and they are only about two weeks behind their pre-December delay while we are 10 or more weeks behind.

Why is this? The vast majority of the country — 36 states and territories — submits all the relevant information to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System database and allows gun dealers to contact the FBI to do the background checks. Our state does not do this for regulated firearms (handguns and certain rifles).

Instead, when you purchase your firearm you fill out the form, which is then sent off to the Maryland State Police. They do 16 separate checks for each application, including the NICS check, then they send it back to the federal firearms licensee. Any number of things can flag your application for further review, which adds an extra two to four weeks of waiting time.

While it isn't reasonable to expect the state police to be able to migrate the other databases into NICS during this backlog, it is completely reasonable to be frustrated that this hasn't already been done.

Multi-week backlogs have happened a number of times over the past 13 years, yet the state police are still using the same broken system. While the General Assembly did increase their budget, they also increased their workload with the new gun laws, and the increase won't be enough to allow them to handle both the backlog and preparations for the new laws.

You also state that "the vast majority of these gun purchasers already own multiple firearms, so this isn't about endangered people looking to arm themselves."

This is extremely insulting on many levels. First, you insinuate that owning multiple firearms should be or is a crime. Then you suggest that this is all about arming ourselves.

Guns are tools. Suggesting that somebody doesn't have a need for one because they have another is like saying you don't need to buy a flat-head screw driver because you already have a Phillips head. While every gun can be used for defense or offense, that doesn't mean there aren't other uses.

The best example of this is competition shooting. Different competitions require different regulated firearms. Cowboy shooting requires two single-action revolvers, Glock Sport Shooting Foundation matches require a Glock semi-automatic pistol, and three-gun competitions require a semi-automatic pistol as well as a rifle, and so on.

How has this backlog affected me? I purchased my first semi-automatic pistol in February. I have no criminal record or any other issue that prohibits me from owning firearms. I passed a background check for a revolver last year well within the 7-day time frame, yet it took 92 days to get the paperwork back from this purchase.

I included my Social Security number along with all the required information on the form, yet I was put in the review pile because I share a name with over 130,000 people nationwide. When I called on day 80 I was informed that my application had been mailed back already.

In reality it wasn't mailed for another week — the NICS number had expired while it was in the mail, requiring them to issue a new one, and I was finally able to pick up the gun only two days before the entire form was set to expire. At that point I would have had to start all over hope they didn't put me at the bottom of the pile.

Situations like this are not an inconvenience, they are flat out incompetence. If I take an extra 85 days to file my taxes or pay a ticket I face additional penalties. If I'm given seven days to do a job and it takes me 92, I would have long been fired and my replacement would have long completed the job.

The vast majority of the states let the FBI and the federally licensed firearms dealers handle these checks without major issues. If the next state's worst backlog is two to four weeks and yours is two to four months, you are doing something seriously wrong.

Joe Bell

Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times
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