Outgunned: Maryland police overwhelmed by huge backlog of background checks

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Local,Maryland,Crime,Andy Brownfield

A surge in gun sales in Maryland has led to a massive backlog in background checks, taking as much as 10 weeks instead of the required seven days.

In the first five months of 2013, the Maryland State Police received 57,732 applications to purchase a handgun or assault-style weapon -- more than the agency receives in a typical year. The state police department is supposed to complete a background check within seven days of receiving an application.

"It's definitely unprecedented," said Maryland State Police spokesman Sgt. Marc Black. "We've never seen numbers like this, ever."

Black said the agency recently increased the number of employees processing background checks, putting more part-time staffers on the job of checking 16 databases to make sure applicants aren't prohibited from buying a firearm. State police have 15 full-time troopers and 14 part-time staffers processing applications 21 hours a day, seven days a week. The databases are shut down three hours every morning for maintenance.

Source: Maryland State Police

Heavy metal
Maryland gun sales
2012
January 4,609
February 6,153
March 6,330
April 5,379
May 4,562
June 4,082
July 4,861
August 5,305
September 4,626
October 5,090
November 7,247
December 11,855
2013
January 14,238
February 11,253
March 11,050
April 10,955
May 10,028

Even with up to 29 people processing applications, the department is still wading through 26,547 applications dating back to March, Black said.

State police were averaging about 5,300 applications a month in 2012, until that number spiked to 11,855 in December, when the killing of 26 children and educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., sparked national discussion about stricter gun control.

Since then, the agency has seen an average of 11,500 new applications a month in 2013, with a high of 14,238 in January. Black said they receive about 2,500 applications a week.

Fred Kirchner, vice president of the Maryland Association of Firearms Retailers, blamed the spike on hysteria created by politicians, the media and gun groups like the National Rifle Association.

"It's the typical political frenzies that get developed by the misinformation that the government is going to take people's guns," said Kirchner, who owns Fred's Firearm Service in Chestertown and has been gunsmithing and selling firearms for nearly 50 years. "The wannabe Rambos are all turned on."

Kirchner said many gun dealers are confused about state law. He pointed to a June 4 announcement from the Maryland State Police clarifying that dealers are allowed to release a firearm to a buyer seven days after the application is submitted, regardless of whether the background check is completed.

If police don't complete the background check on time, it is up to individual dealers to choose whether to hand over a gun to a buyer, said Kirchner. Most dealers across the state are opting to wait until they hear back from the police before handing over firearms, he said.

"I've refused to sell guns to people sometimes who seemed like they couldn't handle them or seemed like they might have emotional problems," Kirchner said.

abrownfield@washingtonexaminer.com

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