Long waits for concealed gun licenses persist with COVID, surge in sales

Special Reports

The Clark County Sheriff's Office is scheduling new concealed pistol license applicants out six months

CLACKAMAS COUNTY, Ore. (KOIN) — “(Everybody) wants a concealed weapons permit, it seems like,” said Sgt. Brent Waddell with the Clark County Sheriff’s Office in Washington. His department, like so many across the Northwest, is working its way through a massive backlog of concealed pistol licenses, brought on by closures during the early months of the coronavirus pandemic and a surge in applications.

Washington and Oregon don’t require licenses to own guns, but people do need one to carry a concealed handgun.

The Clark County Sheriff’s Office closed in-person operations for about three months at the onset of the pandemic. While people could still renew their licenses, new applications had to be halted since they require fingerprinting.

When the sheriff’s office re-opened in June, there was a “significant” backlog of new applications, Waddell said.

Now, more than six months later, they’re still dealing with that backlog, in part because they can’t see as many people due to health restrictions, but also because of the sheer volume.

In November of 2019, the Clark County Sheriff’s Office processed 542 CPLs, Waddell said. In November 2020, they processed 677, a nearly 25% increase. That was consistent for most of 2020, he said.

The department also runs background checks for gun sales and transfers, which exploded last year. In September of 2019, there were 736 sales and transfers. Sales more than doubled last September, to 1,544.

“I was shocked,” Waddell said.

He is urging anyone trying to get their CPL to be patient though; right now, the sheriff’s office is scheduling appointments out to July, meaning people can expect to wait half a year to get their license.

“We are processing as fast as we can, as fast as staffing allows,” he said, adding that he expects wait times to decrease.

If you live in an incorporated city in Washington, you have to apply for your CPL through your local police department. People who live in unincorporated areas apply through their county sheriff’s office. Out-of-state residents seeking a Washington CPL can apply to any county, so border counties like Clark and Cowlitz tend to see a lot of Oregonians.

“We’re a hop, skip and a jump across the bridge,” Waddell said.

But with Clark County experiencing such long wait times, some Oregonians are driving the extra distance to Cowlitz County, where applications can be processed in just a couple weeks. Chief Administrative Deputy Dave Handy told KOIN 6 News they’ve seen about double the number of CPL applications from the previous year, but that their online permitting program has increased their efficiency.

Oregon has been dealing with its own backlogs: In August, concealed handgun applicants were facing delays of three to four months.

Then in November, Gov. Kate Brown issued her two-week (at the time) freeze, prompting the Washington County Sheriff’s Office to cancel more than 950 new applicant appointments and halt further applications. They just resumed operations on Jan. 19 and are now scheduling new appointments in late June. A spokesperson told KOIN 6 News that doesn’t include the hundreds of people who are waiting to be rescheduled.

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