A Maryland delegate has asked the state attorney general's office whether it was legal for state police to allow up to 200 state employees from five agencies to view confidential information about prospective gun buyers as officials process a massive backlog of gun applications.
Kevin Kelly, Allegany Democrat, sent a letter to Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler seeking details on the three-day "All Hands on Deck" effort in which state employees entered personal information from some of the 39,000 pending purchase applications into an electronic database for the police licensing division.
The purchase applications, Mr. Kelly stated in his request, are "replete with extremely personal and private information regarding the regulated firearm applicant/purchaser. As one of these applicants I find it offensive, reprehensible and hopefully illegal that [nonpolice] personnel have access to the private information of Law Abiding firearms purchasers."
The effort began Saturday in response to the flood of gun applications before the Oct. 1 effective date of the Firearm Safety Act of 2013. The new legislation tacks on a handgun qualification license and fingerprinting requirement to the current firearm purchase background check. It also adds 45 guns to a list of banned assault weapons and limits handgun magazines to 10 rounds. The law grandfathers in people who own or purchase their firearms before Oct. 1.
As of Friday, the licensing division had received 88,884 applications and processed 48,934 of them, police said.
Maryland State Police Spokesman Greg Shipley said the backlog was an "unprecedented challenge in our history" of doing background checks.
"It's not like we can go back to the playbook and say, 'This is what we did before.' We're continually looking for additional ways to address the existing backlog, to try to clear this out as much as we can before Oct. 1. One of the time drags in processing one of these applications is entering the application into electronic form."
To help relieve this burden, Maryland State Police recruited state employees from the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, the Department of Transportation, the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, the Department of Human Resources and the Department of Juvenile Services to perform that stage of data entry.
Mr. Shipley said each of the five agencies is represented by 25 to 40 employees, and those employees were provided with the application information on encrypted discs that are set to be destroyed once the data is entered.
"These are employees who deal with personal data every day in the course of driver's license information, criminal records, juvenile information," Mr. Shipley said. "None of the data-entry personnel are doing background investigations. They do not have that access. We understand the sensitivity of this information, which is why we're using employees who deal with this kind of information. We are not putting it out for any kind of public review or dissemination."
A spokesman for the attorney general said he expected the office would have a response in a couple of days.
Despite assurances from state police, John Josselyn, legislative vice president for the Associated Gun Clubs of Baltimore, said the effort shows that police have "lost control of the licensing division."
"My name, address, place of birth, date of birth and Social Security number are being seen by people who have not necessarily been vetted for this," Mr. Josselyn said. "I don't care if they're used to seeing this kind of stuff. They're seeing stuff they may not be legally authorized to see in the context in which they are seeing it."
Factoring in President Obama's efforts to pass gun control and the firearm act proposed by Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley in January, gun sales have steadily climbed, Mr. Josselyn said, and now police are falling even further behind.
"Now we have a situation where we're right on the cusp of having the Oct. 1 implementation and they're not ready," Mr. Josselyn said. "There's an enormous backlog of 40,000 people. Why is this happening at this late date? It isn't as though this came as a surprise."
Mr. Shipley said police implemented a 21-hour, seven-day-per-week schedule in December, and state police personnel have clocked 24,000 hours in overtime processing applications.
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