Gun rights advocates sue Meck sheriff, claim he’s denying constitutional rights

CHARLOTTE — Gun rights advocates are suing the Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office over the way the county is handling gun permit laws.

The defendants allege a provision in the concealed handgun permit law is unconstitutional and violates both the Second and 14th amendments.

One of the plaintiffs on the lawsuit is Gun Owners of America, Inc., which was, “formed in 1976 to preserve and defend the Second Amendment rights of gun owners.” According to the lawsuit, many of the organization’s members have applied for concealed handgun permits but have been denied or haven’t gotten them in a timely fashion.

The other plaintiffs have similar allegations, saying the laws have infringed upon the rights of their members.

The president of Grass Roots North Carolina, one of the plaintiff organizations, spoke to Channel 9′s Hunter Sáenz.

“These people are being denied their right to protect themselves by a sheriff who is refusing to issue concealed handgun permits in less than, in many cases, a year or more,” Paul Valone told Sáenz.

Another plaintiff is a Mecklenburg County resident who said it took more than three months for her to be fingerprinted after submitting her concealed handgun permit. She said she has now waited more than a year for her permit to be issued, and said that wait is an infringement of her rights.

Two of the plaintiffs, also residents of Mecklenburg County, said they had concealed handgun permits. According to the lawsuit, both tried to renew them before they expired, but they still have not been granted.

The plaintiffs want to challenge the permit law’s mental health provisions. They allege Mecklenburg County sheriff Garry McFadden is using the provision to drag out the application process, denying applicants their constitutional rights.

“Few if any other North Carolina sheriffs make such mental health requests before issuing [concealed handgun permit]s and, not coincidentally, those sheriffs are able to issue or deny all [concealed handgun permit] applications within the statutory 45-day window,” the lawsuit reads. “Yet what takes other North Carolina sheriffs days or weeks to accomplish, Sheriff McFadden is dragging out for anywhere from many months to over a year.”

Valone said McFadden was using the provision as a loophole.

“What McFadden is doing is, he is exploiting a loophole in the law where the sheriff is allowed to do mental health checks on applicants,” Valone said.

The plaintiffs allege McFadden could easily get the mental health records he needs, but say instead, he is choosing to get them directly from an agency, like the Veteran’s Administration, that has delayed its response time by over six months.

Valone said he’s only seen it become an issue in Mecklenburg County.

“It’s a problem only in Mecklenburg County,” he said. “Every other sheriff has resolved these issues and has figured out how to do the background checks in a timely fashion, in appropriate time -- three or four weeks in some cases -- but then the sheriff in Mecklenburg County is taking a year plus.”

The Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office sent the following statement to Channel 9 in response to our request for comment:

“At this time MCSO has not received service/notice pertaining to this alleged lawsuit. MCSO continues to remain in compliance with the Pistol Purchase Permits (PPP) and Concealed Handgun Permits (CHP) statue. The agency has 14-days to process a PPP and 45-days for a CHP once we have received all required paperwork, including ALL mental health releases. Applications are processed first in, first out, and unfortunately, the facilities do not send the releases back in chronological order. 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 which include the VA. Since the beginning of the pandemic MCSO has implemented several changes to the process to be more efficient to include mailing permit(s) to customers to eliminate visits to the office. Last year the division also added two additional staff members. Within the last couple of weeks MCSO began using an interface between the state system and our permit vendor, Permitium to eliminate staff from having to do duplicate entry on new applicants.”

This is the second lawsuit that McFadden has faced in just over two years. Gun rights advocates sued him in August 2021 after applicants faced long delays when applying for permits. In May, a superior court judge granted a preliminary injunction in response to that lawsuit, requiring the sheriff’s office to take fingerprints on the same day a concealed handgun application is submitted.

But despite that change, the new lawsuit says applicants are still facing challenges.

“However, although now able to obtain timely fingerprinting services and submit their [concealed handgun permit] applications when desired, Mecklenburg County residents have continued to suffer from lengthy, months-long delays in receiving their [concealed handgun permit]s, in violation of their right to bear arms under the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution,” the lawsuit reads.

“The fact is, these people have a right,” Valone said. “A right delayed is a right denied. And that’s what the sheriff is doing to these people.”

Sheriff McFadden responds to lawsuit over waiting times for concealed handgun permits

In an interview on Wednesday, McFadden defended the permit process and explained the rules that were in place before he took office and reinforced his support of the Second Amendment.

“I have nothing against my citizens who want to obtain their legal guns,” McFadden said. “I do respect the Second Amendment.”

McFadden said he chooses to check with individual health providers for each applicant and requests mental health records instead of relying solely on a national database.

“It is a precautionary measure that we take to ensure that we are checking each and every person that produces the application,” he said. “If something happens in our county like we see on the television each and every day, then the finger will still be pointed at the sheriff’s office. ‘Did you do the proper background check?’”

McFadden says he’d rather be extra cautious and thorough through the permit process.

The Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office has 7,116 concealed handgun permits that are currently unfulfilled as of November 28, 2022, according to data provided by the sheriff’s office.

McFadden said he would like policymakers to come together and create a policy to improve the process, including a time limit for health providers to get mental health checks to sheriff’s departments. He would also like to see a state-wide mental health database that his deputies can check instead of sending requests to each provider.

(WATCH BELOW: 66-year-old woman, husband play waiting game to get concealed-carry permits)

Hunter Sáenz

Hunter Sáenz, wsoctv.com

Hunter is a reporter for Channel 9.