- Associated Press - Monday, May 9, 2016

BRISTOL, Conn. (AP) - Local police have been scrambling to keep up with number of pistol permit requests after seeing a drastic spike in applicants over the last few months.

“We’ve been inundated,” said Detective Lt. Kevin Morrell, who oversees the detective division- which processes all the applications.

On average, Morrell said, they receive about 30 pistol permit applications a month.

“We had 26 in January,” he said, “but we saw a huge increase in February with 114.”

Police had thought the number of applicants since then would return to normal over the next two months, but they increased in March and April to 157 and 158, respectively. The spike was so overwhelming that they assigned another officer to help process them full time. The department normally only has one person assigned to process pistol permits.

Morrell said he attributes the increase to this year’s upcoming presidential election and the fact that the state just discussed a firearm-related bill in its legislative session that was ultimately shot down.

“Anytime there’s possible legislation out there, even if it has nothing to do with stricter regulations, we usually see an increase,” he said.

Additionally, he continued, “if people think that any of the (presidential) candidates are anti-gun, they try to get their permits so they can be grandfathered in if the law changes.”

By statute, local police have eight weeks to either approve or deny a citizen’s application. But the increase in applicants has happened around the state and the country, and has bogged things down quite a bit.

As part of the process, local police departments send an applicant’s information to the State Police Bureau of Identification to do a background check.

Because of the recent high volume of requests, state police sometimes don’t get the background check results to municipalities until seven weeks after the original request, according to Morrell. This puts local police in a tricky situation, having to then do their own in-house checks and make a decision on whether someone is suitable for a temporary permit within the eight-week timeframe.

“The law seems to be tying our hands,” Morrell said.

In the course of obtaining a pistol permit, the process starts with a citizen applying with the police department that covers the town where they reside. If approved, a temporary permit is issued- which is good for 60 days -and that is then used to get a five-year permit from state police.

The temporary permit, police said, allows citizens to carry a gun in the town where it was issued.

But according to Jim Zoppi, owner of Jim’s Gun Shop on Farmington Avenue, the temporary permit cannot be used to buy a firearm. Although it can’t be used to acquire a gun, local police say they still take issuing the temporary permits very seriously because it allows people to carry one.

The final step in the temporary permit process is the police chief approving or denying the application.

With so many people applying, Bristol Police Chief Brian Gould said he doesn’t always have all of the necessary information to make an informed decision within the eight-week requirement.

In addition to the background check, which looks for felony convictions and certain misdemeanors that disqualify someone from having a permit, chiefs have to look at an applicant’s “suitability” as a possible permit holder.

“You might not have a criminal record, but if we check our in-house records and find that we’ve responded to your home numerous times because you’ve talked about committing suicide, that person isn’t suitable,” Gould said.

“I will not sign off on a permit if I don’t have all the necessary information,” he said.

There’s a common belief, Morrell said, that police are “anti-gun” and that they’ll do anything to deny a citizen’s right to have a pistol permit. In reality, he continued, the process only takes long because police have limited resources to work with.

Additionally, Gould said, he’s reluctant to make a decision on someone’s permit without all the information because that would leave him only one option: to deny it.

“I can’t approve one without knowing the individual is suitable,” he said.

On the flipside, he said, making an uninformed decision would hurt those who are perfectly eligible to possess a permit.

“Do you know what the process is like to get a permit once you’ve been denied? It takes two years. I don’t want to do that to someone just because I have to make a decision under a deadline.”

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Information from: The Bristol Press, http://www.bristolpress.com

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