Larry Hyatt, owner of one of the country’s busiest gun stores, has more than a quarter-million dollars worth of guns sitting in his store, just waiting for their prospective owners — and there’s a good reason.
Hyatt’s store is located in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina’s most populous county. The large number of firearms in “purchase queue” stems from a newly created firearms law passed by the North Carolina legislature in December requiring everyone who applies for a gun permit in North Carolina to undergo a mental health background check.
Following the new law’s passage — and combined with December’s terror attack in San Bernardino — the number of gun permit requests in Mecklenburg County began to skyrocket. This put the county’s sheriff in an awkward position. That’s because the new law gave him only 14 days to approve or deny a permit request, despite the fact that it normally takes much longer than two weeks to thoroughly screen the mental health background of a permit applicant.
But according to WCNC-TV, the time constraint hasn’t stopped Mecklenburg County Sheriff Irwin Carmichael from erring on the side of safety and approving permits beyond the 14-day limit — even if it means he’s breaking the new law in order to arm people who are ultimately cleared to have the permits.
“So [the new law] kind of puts us in a dilemma,” he told WCNC. “Do we go ahead and issue permits and let everyone know in 14 days or wait till we get all of this medical information back? I’m always going to err on the side of safety.”
Carmichael added, “We want to make sure the guns are in the right people’s hands and that’s why we have to have these checks.” According to WCNC, what the sheriff is really trying to say is that his department is breaking the new law in order to keep the public safe.
Part of the problem, which has created the huge bottleneck, stems from the county’s outdated record-keeping.
“So we have a limited database,” Mecklenburg County Clerk Elsa Chinn-Gary told WCNC. “It requires us to actually go back to old microfilm, go back to CDs and actually go back to paper logs to look for names.”
But the county’s due diligence is very pragmatic. According to Hyatt, if the sheriff issues just one permit to a person who uses that gun for harm, due to mental health reasons, the county would be “crucified.”
“The sheriff or the clerk of court, if they issue one document and they miss one person with a mental problem, they are going to be crucified,” said Hyatt. “So they are really diligent trying to do it, but they don’t have a good way to do it. It’s a system that’s just not working.”
There may be some relief on the way. State Sen. Jeff Tarte, one of the original bill’s cheerleaders, said the legislature will look into the bill’s unintended consequences during their next session, which is slated to begin in April.
Follow the author of this story on Twitter and Facebook: