The Pitt County Board of Commissioners have funded three more clerk positions so the Pitt County Sheriff’s Office can process an ever-increasing number of permits to purchase and carry concealed handguns.
According to North Carolina law, the sheriff’s office is tasked with processing concealed carry permits within 45 days and purchase permits within 14 days. Sheriff Paula Dance told the board that record numbers of purchases have forced the office to discontinue other services to focus on handguns.
Even with those addendums, Dance said that it is taking eight weeks to get through permits — more than the time allowed by the state. Online options allow residents to apply for permits 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Background checks, fingerprinting, mental release forms and state notifications take time, she said.
“We are ordering approximately 200 CCW’s in a week’s time,” she said of concealed carry requests.
The office has two people processing the requests, but some applicants have threatened to sue for the violation of their second amendment rights, she said.
Commissioners were not quick to grant Dance’s request for three to five new positions. Commissioner Chris Nunnally argued that paying staff to do a job that yields $5 per purchase permit and $90 per concealed carry permit was an affront to taxpayers.
“I fish and I buy a fishing license every year that helps support North Carolina Wildlife in my activities as a gamesperson,” Nunnally said. “Where I have an issue is we’re offering a service and permitting, and the state is setting a mandate that you have sufficient positions to return all of the background checks that are necessary, and we’re not being provided financial assistance. The taxpayers in Pitt County are going to be asked to essentially foot the bill.”
“Before we go down the rabbit hole ... I’d ask that we ask the General Assembly to assess their fee schedule and see if it’s not creating an undue burden on counties that are maybe not in a position to foot the bill for $150,000 to get clerks in place.”
Dance said that waiting was an option, but called it a “pay me now or pay me later situation.” She also noted that the permits do raise revenue. Handgun permits generate the full $5 and concealed carry permits generate $45.
Commissioner Beth Ward initially moved for one position to be granted to the office’s staff. However, Commissioner Tom Coulson said that the issue was originally addressed in September.
“Probably the five is what she really needs,” Coulson said. “We, as county commissioners, having been duly notified not once, not twice but now three times, that she has problem obeying the state law. We are putting her in a bad position.”
Coulson substituted a motion for five immediate positions, but three positions were reached as a middle ground and approved unanimously by the board. For some commissioners, the threat of a lawsuit was more worrisome than having to provide new staff for the office.
It is expected that adding two more positions will be discussed when the board looks at budgets in early May.