AUGUSTA, Maine — Thanks to inadequate staffing, crushing demand and strict legal requirements, state police say something needs to change in how Maine issues permits to carry concealed weapons.
State law dictates that new permits must be issued or denied within 60 days of the application date, and renewals must be decided within 30 days. But state police are not meeting — and cannot meet — that deadline, says Lt. Scott Ireland, who leads the department responsible for permit processing.
“It simply cannot get met,” Ireland said. “We’re processing permits that we’ve had for two or three months. They each have to wait in line until they cross the desk.”
The state police, which handles concealed carry permit processing for residents of towns without their own police department and residents of other states, is facing a backlog of 4,600 applications with more than 150 more flowing in each day, Ireland said. His department has only one full-time employee dedicated to the process, and efforts to obtain funding for additional staff have been unsuccessful.
In most cases, it’s taking about four months to approve or deny each application, according to state police spokesman Stephen McCausland. And there is no course of redress for applicants who don’t see their request processed within the legally mandated time frame.
Ireland also said the 30- or 60-day time frame is impossible to meet because state law requires thorough moral character and mental health background checks, the latter of which takes six weeks to turn around, Ireland said.
A law enacted by the Legislature this spring requires state police to report on concealed carry in Maine and make recommendations to the Legislature’s Joint Standing Committee on Criminal Justice and Public Safety by Jan. 15.
A subgroup of that panel will meet with state police officials and other groups this fall and winter to prepare for that deadline, said Rep. Ricky Long, R-Sherman, the ranking Republican on the criminal justice committee.
“There are problems in the system that everybody knows about,” Long said. The lawmaker said he may propose increased licensing fees in exchange for longer permit periods. Currently, a concealed carry permit lasts four years. That could slow the flow of renewal applications, he said.
David Trahan, executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, also will take part in those meetings. Trahan said the state should consider allowing entities other than state and local police to process permits.
“If the state police cannot do this, there are municipalities that can,” he said. “We can look at other issuing authorities, such as sheriffs, county services, whatever it takes to get the job done.”
One thing Trahan said his group would not support is extending the required turnaround time from the current 30- or 60-day deadline. That’s a target the state should be able to hit, because some applicants may be filing for concealed carry permits out of fear for their own safety, and they should not have to wait, he said.
“We’re not going to support changing the law just because it’s more convenient for the state police,” he said.
Whatever proposals end up before the criminal justice committee, Ireland said, those time requirements won’t be met without streamlining the background check system. Trahan said he’d support looking for ways to speed up the process.
“I feel pretty comfortable that if we had a couple more people, we could address this and get it squared away,” Ireland said. “But will it be in that 30-day window? I don’t see that as remotely possible.”
Follow Mario Moretto on Twitter at @riocarmine.