The staggering backlog of applications for concealed weapons permits in Orange County has grown to almost 3,000 and some applicants said they've been told it may be years before their paperwork is fully processed.
The flood of applications was triggered by a pro-gun appeals court ruling that relaxed the restrictions on who could carry weapons. Most counties in the state have opted to wait for a likely appeal, but Orange County has gone the other way — taking applications from those who claim they need to carry a weapon for their own protection or safety.
Sheriff's Department officials said they are scrambling to speed up the process and deal with the thousands of gun applications that have rolled in since February. The department has received four times the applications it typically receives in an entire year.
"There's just no way this pace keeps up," said Lt. Jeff Hallock, the department's spokesman.
Some applicants said they have been assigned interview and background-check appointments as late as mid-2016.
On Wednesday, Sheriff Sandra Hutchens said she would eliminate an in-person gun inspection component of the application process to help streamline the process.
All the while, the department continues to navigate a legal tightrope. State Atty. Gen. Kamala D. Harris has said she plans to appeal the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling, in the absence of an appeal by San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore, who was the named defendant in the original case.
"We're still in that kind of leeway area where the courts can still withdraw the decision," Hallock said. "Following that, we may continue down the same course or we may have to divert and go in another direction."
Hutchens has said she intends to "follow the law."
While county supervisors voted to support the hiring of about 15 retired deputies on a temporary basis to help handle the onslaught, Hallock said that ultimately may not be the best course of action.
"We're not prepared to commit 15 full-time personnel," he said.
He said officials are in the process of identifying potential part-time staff, possibly from the department's professional standards division.
Hallock said the processing delay is in no way a "stall tactic," despite claims to the contrary.
Some, though, said they're growing impatient.
Irvine-based attorney Mark Adams, for instance, said in an email that his appointment is not until Sept. 9, 2016.
"This outrageously long queue is a hard pill to swallow, given that the pent-up demand for permits was caused by a violation of the constitutional rights of Orange County citizens in the first place," he said.
Russell Mallette, a Costa Mesa resident who works for a private security company and first filed an application in late 2012, said he wished those with applications pending before the change in policy would be processed first.
"I don't want to seem like one of those guys who says, 'Oh, this sounds cool, I'm going to get my permit,'" he said. "I take every course my industry offers me — crisis negotiation, taught by an FBI agent ... I've got the certs on the wall to back it up."
As of now, his appointment is set for Jan. 13, 2016, at 9:30 a.m.