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Meck County sheriff sued over concealed carry permit delays

Over 7,100 concealed carry handgun applications are pending in Mecklenburg County. A lawsuit alleges Sheriff Garry McFadden is intentionally delaying the process.

MECKLENBURG COUNTY, N.C. — A lawsuit filed against the Mecklenburg County Sheriff's Office accuses Sheriff Garry McFadden of intentionally delaying the issuing of concealed carry handgun permits and gun-purchasing permits. 

Grass Roots North Carolina, Gun Owners of America and three citizens are suing McFadden, accusing him of obstructionism because of the time it takes the agency to issue concealed carry handgun permits.

The agency maintains it is "in compliance with the law" and has also taken steps to make the process more efficient.

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“860,000 North Carolinians have concealed carry permits as of today," Andrew Stevens, GRNC spokesperson, said. "There would be thousands more in Mecklenburg County if the sheriff would do his job."

The groups in the lawsuit accuse the sheriff’s office of denying people their rights of self-defense by creating delays in issuing gun permits.

We sued him earlier this year," Stevens said. "We won that lawsuit on an issue regarding purchase permits. He has now moved on to delaying concealed carry handgun permits and some of them are over a year in the process."

According to the North Carolina General Statutes, a sheriff’s office has 45 days to issue or deny a concealed carry handgun permit once it receives all documents including medical health releases.

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There are over 7,100 concealed carry handgun applications pending in Mecklenburg County. The agency said the backlog comes from the medical offices that review the mental health checks, especially the VA.

“Ninety-nine sheriffs in the state of North Carolina can conduct these checks correctly, properly without having to send anything to the VA,” Stevens said.

The law enforcement agency adds applications are processed on a first come, first served basis, however it doesn’t always receive releases back from facilities in chronological order. The Mecklenburg County Sheriff's Office issued the following statement to WCNC Charlotte: 

"We have also found that not everyone discloses their military status on their application, so to be sure we are getting accurate information our process is to check everyone through the same facilities."

Now the statute itself does not specify a particular process for sheriff’s offices to handle mental health checks. Despite this, Grass Roots North Carolina said the agency is taking advantage of the system.

“They are using a procedure that unjustly delays the process," Stevens said. "So we are asking in this lawsuit that the actual medical health portion of this be declared unconstitutional."

The groups feel the county is overloading the VA with requests when it doesn’t have to go down that avenue.

“The VA is not funded to do general mental health checks at large,” Brian Yerke, GRNC spokesperson, said.

“Personally, as a veteran, I am offended by McFadden’s decision to burden the VA system with unnecessary requests for information, particularly for people who have never served in the military,” Stevens said.

Permits in other counties

The Rowan County Sheriff’s Office has about 120 permits that are in “pending” status. On average it said it processes about 200 to 300 applicants per month, half the volume from 2021.

“Our total application process takes us approximately three-to-four weeks from the application date, including the background checks, approval or denial of the application, and then receiving the permit from Raleigh for issuance to the applicant,” according to Rowan County Sheriff’s Office's administrative secretary, Jane Medley.

They do mental health background checks through the administrative office of the court and only requests for veterans are sent to the VA.

“Since we have stopped doing checks through any other agencies (because they were causing delays and increasing our permit turnaround time), we are diligent in questioning our applicants’ concerning visits to psychiatrists or mental health facilities/providers, which will occasionally reveal a need to send a mental health request to other providers,” Medley said.

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Over in Gaston County, the sheriff’s office said the turnaround time is about 10-12 weeks. It currently has about 200 files in processing. Citizens can come in and complete an application with the clerk. The county does not offer online services and does not take appointments.

The agency said the mental health release form is sent off to the clerk of court and Broughton State Hospital for the mental health background check and does not go through the VA.

“Once we release both of those back, we move on to the criminal background stage," Capt. Mark J. Shepard said. "When the criminal and mental backgrounds are placed in the file it is then moved onto the approval/denial stage."

Iredell County currently has 139 applications at different phases of the process which include purchase permit and concealed carry handgun permit applications. Sheriff Darren Campbell said their mental health clearances go through the clerk of court and not through the VA. 

“That's the sheriff's discretion if they'd like to do different things, or different backgrounds or whatever, but we have had very good results in catching everything,” Campbell said. “We were running through with the technology that's been placed in the clerk courts office. We feel confident in using that system.”

Iredell County is much smaller than Mecklenburg with a population of about 200,000 people. However, Campbell said they found ways to streamline the process.

The sheriff’s office said they are open longer hours and open to the public on Saturdays in both the Statesville and Mooresville offices. They also have workstations in their lobbies for citizens to complete the application and an app also helps with the application process.

“We don't put it on the back burner. We start on the same day, we get it sent to Raleigh for them to do their thing, get the printout,” Campbell said. “So, we're looking at our turnaround on a concealed carry about three to four weeks.”

WCNC Charlotte did hear from the VA about the delays who said it has experienced a significant increase in the volume of medical record requests and they are working to fix the issue especially to support their veterans, their top priority. 

It hopes to have a resolution by the end of the month.

The Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office said it has made several changes since the pandemic to also streamline the process, including adding staff and mailing permits. It has also implemented a new program that prevents staff from doing duplicate entries on new applications.

GRNC President Paul Valone is confident in their position.

“Grass Roots North Carolina and gun owners of America will file as many lawsuits as necessary to ensure that this sheriff and other sheriffs comply with the law,” Valone said. “With our legal hand strengthened by the recent supreme court decision in NY state rifle & pistol assoc. V. Bruen, we have a strong position to win this suit, meaning McFadden’s obstructionism serves only to unfairly burden the taxpayers of Mecklenburg County with the costs of pointless litigation.”

Moreover, the groups said they will continue to fight for gun owners’ rights.

Contact Jesse Pierre at jpierrepet@wcnc.com or follow her on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.  


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