A backlog of applications for concealed weapons permits in Orange County has grown to almost 3,000, officials said Thursday, as the Orange County Sheriff's Department scrambles to speed up the process.
The department is working out the logistics of a major staffing increase to help handle the flood, spokesman Lt. Jeff Hallock said.
The increase started in the wake of a decision to roll back restrictions in response to a pro-gun ruling by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
The ruling would affect every county in the state, but Orange County was among the first to eliminate the requirement that residents who wanted to carry a concealed weapon must show they had a specific, individualized need to do so.
Since that move in February, the department has seen nearly four times the number of applications it usually receives in an entire year.
"There's just no way this pace keeps up," Hallock said.
On Wednesday, Sheriff Sandra Hutchens also opted to eliminate an in-person gun inspection component of the application to further streamline processing, he said.
All the while, the department continues to navigate a kind of legal limbo. State Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris has said she plans to appeal the ruling, in the absence of an appeal by San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore, who was the named defendant in the original case.
"We're still in that kind of leeway area where the courts can still withdraw the decision," Hallock said. "Following that, we may continue down the same course or we may have to divert and go in another direction."
Hutchens has said she intends to "follow the law."
"That is what I did prior to the law change and that is what I'm doing today," she told the Orange County Board of Supervisors earlier this month.
While supervisors voted to support the hiring of about 15 retired deputies on a temporary basis to help handle the onslaught, Hallock said that may not ultimately be the best course of action.
"We're not prepared to commit 15 full-time personnel," he said.
He said officials are in the process of identifying potential part-time staff, possibly from the department's professional standards division.
Hallock added that the delay in processing is in no way a "stall tactic," despite claims to the contrary.
Still, Orange County applicants say they're growing impatient, waiting to see if their interview and background check appointments — which now are set for as late as mid-2016 — will be adjusted.
"My appointment is set for Sept. 9, 2016," Irvine-based attorney Mark Adams wrote in an email. "In any event, this outrageously long queue is a hard pill to swallow, given that the pent-up demand for permits was caused by a violation of the constitutional rights of Orange County citizens in the first place."
Russell Mallette, a Costa Mesa resident who works for a private security company and owns a small business, said he wished that those with applications pending before the change in policy would be given "favorable precedence" over those who jumped online as soon as the court ruling came down.
He said he was told when he first submitted an application in late 2012 that his work may not be sufficient "good cause" to carry a concealed weapon, so rather than risk getting rejected, he opted to put his application on hold.
"I don't want to seem like one of those guys who says, 'Oh, this sounds cool. I'm going to get my permit,'" he said. "I take every course my industry offers me — crisis negotiation, taught by an FBI agent ... I've got the certs on the wall to back it up."
His interview appointment is set for 9:30 a.m. Jan. 13, 2016.