By SUSAN HAIGH, Associated Press
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) _ Connecticut officials report making progress in addressing backlogs in background checks that soared into the thousands after the December shooting rampage at Sandy Hook Elementary School and the passage of expanded state gun control laws.
Lt. Paul Vance said state police have caught up on processing fingerprint cards needed for pistol permit applicants. Criminal histories for about 2,900 applicants are still under review, with the oldest one dating back to May 13, he said last week.
“They’re pumping them out and they’re getting them out under the eight- or nine-week deadline,” Vance said. “Basically, they’re caught up.”
Back in early May, about 9,300 people were waiting for background checks to be completed. That figure included pistol permit applicants and people who needed checks for employment.
Reuben Bradford, commissioner of the state Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection, said then that state police also needed to complete an additional 62,000 gun registrations received from dealers and private parties that were transferring firearms. Those transfers all had cleared the necessary background checks, he said, but the information hadn’t been entered into the agency’s system for firearms tracking.
“There was a clog in the system, with the volume of pistol permit applications that came aboard. But they were able to devise a way to alleviate that backlog,” Vance said. The backlog of employment-related checks is also being addressed, he said.
With the start of the new fiscal year July 1, Connecticut has begun to hire and train more people in the state police department to help handle the processing of background check requests in light of the new gun legislation, considered among the strictest in the country.
Jeff Higgins, an employee at TGS Outdoors, a gun store in Branford, said he has seen some improvement with the time it takes to get instant background checks completed over the phone for existing permit holders or to get a reference number for new purchasers. But there are still issues, he said.
“Sometimes we call in and I get right through. And other times it’s busy, busy, busy, busy,” Higgins said, adding that it’s typically busy at lunchtime, after work and on weekends, when customers frequent the store.
Higgins said there is still confusion about the gun law and concerns that certain forms needed for new certifications, including future long gun and ammunition purchases, haven’t yet been posted online for consumers. He said the forms were expected to be ready July 1, when that section of the new legislation took effect. Michael Lawlor, Gov. Dannel P Malloy’s undersecretary for criminal justice policy at the Office of Policy and Management, said the various forms are expected to be posted this coming week.
Starting Oct. 1, the sale of ammunition and ammunition magazines will generally be prohibited unless the buyer shows a new ammunition certificate and a driver’s license or other valid form of identification or has a pistol permit, gun dealer sale permit, or long gun or handgun eligibility certificate. A national background check will be required to obtain an ammunition certificate.
The long-gun eligibility certificate, which will require completion of an instructional course that Higgins said hasn’t been determined yet, as well as state and federal background checks, will be required beginning April 1 for anyone 18 and older who buys or receives a long gun, typically a rifle or shotgun. But people who already have pistol permits and have undergone a federal background check won’t need the long-gun certificate to purchase a rifle.
With the fall hunting season looming, Higgins said he’s concerned the extensive backlogs for background checks will resurface. He said many hunters don’t have pistol permits.
“We are only a couple months away from the start of hunting season,” he said.
Yet Lawlor said it’s unclear whether there will be a rush to obtain the certificates for long guns and ammunition.
“The unknown thing is how many people in Connecticut own long guns who want to buy another one and don’t already have a pistol permit,” he said.
And given that more than 200,000 residents already have pistol permits in the state, there may not be a large number of people seeking other certificates that require additional background checks, he said.
“It is Connecticut,” Lawlor said. “I don’t think there’s that many more people who want to buy more guns in the future.”
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