Federal judge rules that sheriff violated Constitution by suspending issuing pistol permits, lets plaintiff sue

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RALEIGH, NC – Denying a motion for dismissal made by the Wake County Sheriff, a federal judge has determined that a temporary suspension in issuing pistol permits due to the pandemic by the department is a violation of constitutional rights and ordered that the plaintiff can pursue civil damages associated with the suspension.

On March 24, 2020, Wake County Sheriff Gerald Baker enacted a suspension in the acceptance and processing of pistol purchase permit (PPP) applications continuing until April 30, 2020.

The suspension was motivated, according to the Sheriff’s Department, because of the pandemic outbreak and a state of emergency declared by Gov. Roy Cooper.

Sheriff Baker said he suspended acceptance of the permit applications because he was concerned about increased applications and long lines making social distancing difficult.

On March 26, Kelly Stafford telephoned the Wake County Sheriff’s office to inquire about proceeding with an application for a PPP, but she was informed that the office was not accepting PPP applications until after April 30th, consistent with the public notice on the website declaring the entire application process suspended.

Stafford, a Wake County resident, filed a suit against Wake County after her application was denied. Her case was supported and assisted by the Second Amendment Foundation, Grassroots N.C., and the Firearms Policy Coalition (FPC).

North Carolina law requires every person wanting to purchase or receive a handgun to first obtain a permit from the sheriff of the county where he or she resides.

Sheriff Baker had asked for the case, Stafford v. Baker, to be dismissed because the office was re-opened and Stafford has since obtained her PPP. The law requires the sheriff to issue a permit unless the is “good cause shown.”

The sheriff must give a written explanation of the reason and the specific statutorily-enumerated grounds for any denial.

Statutorily enumerated reasons include the existence of a criminal history, mental incompetency, or drug addiction. There is no exception for a declared emergency or a pandemic.

North Carolina U.S. District Court Judge Louise W. Flanagan disagreed and ruled the case would go forward. The judge wrote in her ruling:

“(The suspension) does not reasonably fit with the government objective to ameliorate ‘concerns over social distancing’ and ‘concerns related to the COVID-19 pandemic.’ Nor does a complete suspension in accepting PPP applications reasonably fit a problem of high volumes of permit applications.

“Rather, the corrective measure chosen under the facts alleged is at best a blunt, or tangentially related, measure for addressing the concerns noted.

Indeed, based on the allegations in the complaint, it is plausible to infer that defendant suspended acceptance of applications due to inability to process a high volume of applicants at a time of acute public need, under the guise of generally articulated ‘public health concerns.’”

In allowing the case to proceed, the judge ruled that a citizen impacted by the Wake County Sheriff Department’s application delay could seek damages.

Adam Kraut, FPC’s Director of Legal Strategy, applauded the judge’s decision:

We are pleased with the Court’s appropriate decision to allow this important Second Amendment case to continue and FPC looks forward to holding Sheriff Baker accountable for the constitutional violations he caused last year.

“As the Supreme Court has recently recognized, even in a pandemic, the Constitution cannot be put away and forgotten. We look forward to vindicating the rights of our plaintiffs and members of the public.”

Alan M. Gottleb, founder and executive vice president of the Second Amendment Foundation (SAF), said he understands the reasoning behind the Sheriff’s decision to suspend permit applications, but that an emergency cannot supersede the Constitution of the United States:

“One simply cannot suspend the ability of private citizens to exercise their constitutional rights. Because the application process had been suspended until after April 30, ‘she was statutorily barred from purchasing any handgun for defense of herself and her family in her home.’

“We’re glad Kelly was able to finally get her PPP,” Gottlieb noted, ‘but that wasn’t the point. The Constitution doesn’t take a day off, even in a declared state of emergency. And neither do we.”

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What Constitution? Police department blames virus, ‘safety concerns’ for suspending issuing gun permits.

 November 21, 2021

NANTUCKET, MA – Nantucket Police suspended acceptance of applications for Firearm Identification Cards (FID) and License to Carry (LTC) permits from residents on Wednesday, November 18, citing coronavirus concerns related to a “fingerprint-based criminal records checks.”

A tweet from the official account of the Nantucket Police Department announced the suspension:

“(The decision to suspend application acceptance came) after employees responsible for obtaining… fingerprints expressed their concern that they could not safely do their jobs with the workplace safety procedures that we have in place.”

According to the State of Massachusetts’ official website, it is illegal to own a gun without an FID card. It is also illegal to transport a firearm under specific conditions or carry for self-defense without an LTC permit.

Therefore, Nantucket residents could be blocked from legally owning or carrying a gun, resulting in the shutdown preventing law-abiding citizens from legally exercising their Second Amendment rights.

This policy decision has drawn criticism, especially from those citizens in the Nantucket area, but also from Second Amendment and gun rights advocates all over the nation.

Ryan Fournier, Students for Trump founder, commented on Twitter:

“COVID-19 is not a reason to infringe on our Second Amendment right to defend ourselves, our loved ones, and our communities.

“More firearms in the hands of law-abiding Americans make everyone more safe.”

Cam Edwards of Bearing Arms opined:

“This is why your rights should never require a license in order to exercise them.”

Many upset and angry residents and Second Amendment supporters responded to the police department’s Tweet:

@peegu36 reacted:

“(We have not suspended issuing licenses, we (just won’t issue new licenses or those needing fingerprints). Nonsense, straw argument:  that is tantamount to abridging the rights of citizens who seek this (ultimately unconstitutional) license.

“Come on now:  Chief Pittman’s arguments are nonsense.  ‘What if the clerk tests positive and the whole department has to quarantine.’ Straw argument:  appropriate safeguards are available to handle these effectively. Do them offsite. Outsource them.” 

@NickolesRick also responded:

“Absolute power corrupts absolutely.  Citizens of Nantucket, move to the South but vote Republican when you get here!” 

Bossmoves88 tweeted:

“I’m sure if someone’s arrested, they’ll get fingerprinted. Also – every store you go to has a keypad on the credit card machine. They all have the clear plastic guard on them that everyone touches (which) is not sanitized. With PPE you can take fingerprints. This is insane.”

@1776PM said:

“So instead of waiving permit requirements, you are going to deprive your citizens of their Constitutional rights?”

https://twitter.com/1776PM/status/1329247844214116352

@DropOutVision reacted in a tweet:

“Will you also be letting criminals run away since you can’t apprehend them while staying 6 feet away? Piss poor excuse for pushing a leftist agenda on law-abiding citizens.”

In other Second Amendment news, citizens in Virginia are angry that a large gun show scheduled in Fairfax County this weekend was canceled.  The same type of show was held at the same venue in August, drawing 12,500 people, and had no after-effects related to the pandemic.

According to The Washington Post:

“The three-day Nation’s Gun Show was scheduled to begin Friday at the Dulles Expo Center in Chantilly but would have had to operate under new capacity restrictions – limiting the crowd to 250 people at a time – that Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) implemented in response to a surge in infections.”

Showmasters, the show’s organizer, filed a lawsuit last week expressing that with the tighter rules, gun owner’s rights were being violated and the cancellation would lead to financial hardships for vendors who were coming from as far away as Texas, also indicating that these shows take months of scheduling and financial planning 

David G. Brown, an attorney for Showmasters argued that the center should be classified as a “brick and mortar establishment” per Virginia law which has no capacity limits and is required to follow only physical distancing and mask-wearing mandates under Northam’s pandemic plan.

Brown argued during a hearing on Thursday:

“Isn’t a Walmart just a 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week exposition of goods to be sold?  There’s no difference.”

Unfortunately for Brown, Showmasters, and gun show vendors and attendees, the arguments were not effective.

The Washington Post reported:

“Fairfax Circuit Court Judge Brett A. Kassabian disagreed. He ruled that Northam has the authority to regulate crowd sizes during the pandemic and that the restrictions would not prevent the gun show from going forward if its organizers abide by them.”

They could not run the event with the 250 people the restriction would permit, so it had to be canceled. 

 

 

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