Soaring Maryland gun sales cause background check backlog

Some gun shops are releasing weapons to purchasers after a seven-day waiting period without results of background checks

August 14, 2013|BY KAUSTUV BASU |
  • Hendershot's Sporting Goods sales associate Robbie Wood, right, fills out the paperwork for a customer for a regulated firearm transfer at the National Pike store east of Hagerstown.
By Ric Dugan, Staff Photographer

With Maryland’s restrictive new gun laws poised to take effect on Oct. 1, firearm sales have increased to the point it is taking Maryland State Police about 100 days to complete background checks, according to an agency official.

State police spokesman Gregory Shipley said an “unprecedented” demand for firearms has led to the backlog.

As a result of the delay, some gun shops are releasing weapons to their purchasers after a seven-day waiting period without the results of the background checks — something state law permits them to do.

“Maryland law states that a firearms dealer must hold a firearm for seven days after forwarding the purchase application to Maryland State Police for a background investigation. The law does not state dealers must hold that weapon after seven days if they have not heard back from State Police,” Shipley wrote in an email.

“Most dealers are holding firearms until the background investigation is complete. Some are not,” he said.


Three gun stores in Washington County contacted by The Herald Mail said they were releasing the guns after seven to 10 days.

Guns being released without background checks “is certainly a concern for the Maryland State Police. I hope it is a concern for the dealers also,” Shipley said. “I understand they have to balance that with their business concerns.”

Takirra Winfield, a spokeswoman for Gov. Martin O’Malley’s office, said public safety is a top priority. She said the state has taken steps to address the backlog in background checks.

“We have significantly increased staffing, there was money in the supplemental budget and there are plans in the near term to automate things. Gun dealers should keep all of that in mind — as most have — when dealers make decision to release guns with no background checks,” Winfield said in an email.

Shipley said that as of July 26, the purchase applications backlog across the state was at 33,460.

“So far this year, we have received a total of 71,894 purchase applications, which exceeds last year’s total of 70,099 and certainly 2010’s total of 38,712,” he said. “Our weekly average of applications received is 2,363”

In 2010, the weekly average was 744, Shipley said.

The Associated Press reported earlier this month that as a result of the backlog, gun dealers released firearms to 30 people who are barred from owning them. All those guns have been recovered, Shipley said.

Michael Faith, marketing director of Hendershot’s Sporting Goods Inc, a Hagerstown gun shop, said it was an unnecessary burden to expect customers to wait 100 days or more.

“We want to make sure that we follow the letter of the law, that we obey all the regulations. I feel we have another responsibility to deliver firearms in a safe and professional manner,” Faith said.

The store started releasing firearms after a seven-day waiting period after state police clarified the law in June, he said.

One of the guns recovered by state police was sold from his store, Faith said.

“They (the customer) elected to accept delivery before the background check came back. They were disapproved. At that point it was out of our hands and in the hands of the Maryland State Police,” he said.

Thomas Pfarr, a floor manager at Hendershot’s, said handgun sales “are through the roof.”

“We have at least tripled our sales in the last year — handguns, assault rifles, and they are starting to pick up again as Oct. 1 starts to get closer,” Pfarr said.

“There is always a risk” that guns will end up in the wrong hands, he said. “ ... It is inevitable when you have that type of system.”

Instant checks?

Pfarr said there was an option to make the system more secure by letting Maryland gun dealers do instant checks for regulated firearms using the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System.

The system is already used by state gun dealers to do background checks of those buying unregulated firearms such as shotguns.

Del. Kevin Kelly, D-Allegany, suggested as much in two letters he wrote to Col. Marcus Brown, the state police superintendent, in June and July.

Brown wrote back saying that the Maryland background check was more extensive then the federal check.

“Maryland law places additional limitations on applicants beyond the federal standards, including persons who may have been adjudicated delinquent of a disqualifying crime, who may have alcohol or drug addictions, or have a domestic violence-related issue on their record, just to name a few,” Brown wrote.

Kelly said in his reply that under the existing policy “the risk of a violent felon obtaining a firearm is too great.”

“For the life of me, I don’t understand the logic and reasoning,” Kelly said during a telephone interview.

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