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Massive Backlog: Police Background Checks Delay Md. Gun Purchases

BALTIMORE (WJZ) -- State police are dealing with a massive backlog as they try to process thousands of background checks on people waiting to buy handguns in Maryland.

And in some cases, that delay has helped guns fall into the hands of people who shouldn't have them.

Derek Valcourt explains the problem and what's being done about it.

For some, the wait right now to get a handgun is more than 100 days.

All Governor O'Malley and the General Assembly had to do was debate gun control, and sales of firearms shot up across the state. And that created a massive backlog for state police--required to conduct an extensive background check for every handgun application.

"It's a challenge. It's one that we are working around the clock, literally, to address," said Greg Shipley, Maryland State Police.

So far this year there have been more than 72,000 firearms applications. This year on average, 2,300 new applications come in each week--triple the number of applications they were handling each week in 2010.

But police acknowledge they're still processing applications filed back in April. The law allows police up to seven days to do the background checks. After that, stores can legally give those guns to customers.

But state police have asked stores not to do that.

"Their backlog is really not my problem," said Frank Loane, Pasadena Pawn & Gun.

Some stores, like Pasadena Pawn & Gun are complying, but reluctantly.

"Customers are very upset, calling and complaining all the time. My hands are tied. There's nothing I can do," Loane said.

And while the stores wait for state police to finish those background checks, many of them end up holding onto the guns their customers want to buy. Entire offices are just full of assault rifles waiting to go to their owners.

And in other rooms, entire walls are filled with handguns the store has been hanging onto. Some of these have been sitting here for more than 100 days.

But some stores are handing guns to customers after the seven days, but before state police complete their background checks. So far, state police have recovered 30 guns that fell into the wrong hands that way.

They keep adding more staff to conduct the database background checks, working 21 hours a day.

"This is our priority right now, again, as we balance our other priorities to serve and protect the people of Maryland," said Shipley.

Both sides acknowledge things will likely change come Oct. 1. That's when the state's new tougher gun restrictions kick in.

State Police expect the number of applications will start to go down in October, but at the same time, they will be adjusting to the new, more complex licensing procedures.

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