Want to buy a gun? Just you wait

Maryland State Police are taking three times as long as usual to finish background checks on new gun purchases, Maryland gun dealers say.

The process usually takes seven days, but several dealers said it was taking three weeks or more for the agency to complete the checks. They blamed the delay on a surge in gun sales sparked by debate over gun regulations proposed by President Barack Obama and Gov. Martin O’Malley.

“Right now, a standard background check is running about three weeks, and MSP is being more and more restrictive,” said Andrew Raymond, co-owner of Engage Armament in Rockville. “That’s making things much more difficult.”

All background checks for purchases of handguns and assault weapons from licensed gun dealers in Maryland go through the state police.

A state police spokesperson, Elena Russo, said she could not say whether the agency was taking longer to process background checks.

“Certainly the workload has increased, but we’re still trying to stick to the seven days,” Russo said, adding that troopers from other divisions have been called in to help process the high volume of background checks.

Jeff Buffenmyer of Garrett County bought a handgun Jan. 3. He received a phone call 20 days later saying his background check had come back and he could pick up his weapon. He said he doesn’t blame state troopers for the backlog, but was nonetheless frustrated.

“It is disheartening to watch my brother walk into a gun shop [in West Virginia] and buy the same gun that I’m looking at and walk out the door with it that same day,” said Buffenmyer, 46.

Michael Faith, marketing director at Hendershot’s Sporting Goods in Hagerstown, said his customers have faced similar delays.

“We are dealing with two to three weeks for paperwork to come back from MSP,” he said. “Now we deal with a lot of frustrated customers because they don’t understand the law.”

The rules surrounding state and federal background checks are complicated.

Customers who purchase regulated guns from Maryland gun dealers must pass both federal and state background checks before they can receive their weapons. Maryland State Police conduct the state background check, which involves querying 17 different criminal and mental health databases.

The state police also process the federal background check by submitting information to the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check system. It generally takes less than a minute for the system to return a completed federal background check.

Stephen Fischer, a spokesman for the FBI Criminal Justice Information Services Division, said the recent increase in gun sales has not slowed the federal background check response time.

Under Maryland law, if the state police do not complete a background check within seven days, a gun dealer is technically allowed to turn the gun over to the customer. Under federal law, however, the dealer could lose its federal firearms license if it releases a gun without confirmation from the state police that the customer has passed the federal check.

Since the two background checks are intermingled in Maryland, gun buyers and gun dealers must wait until they get an answer from the state police on both background checks.

Even if gun dealers were legally allowed to release a gun before the background check were completed, most said in interviews that they would not do so.

“Even if dealers could transfer a gun before a MSP approval came in, most would not,” said Joe Wiczulis, owner of Sure Shot Firearms and Tactical Supply in Pasadena. “Dealers that I have spoken to are all in agreement that we do not want criminals to have guns. The last thing we want is to release a gun to someone, only to find out that they are prohibited.”

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