BALTIMORE — When Scott Schulte stopped at Pasadena Pawn and Gun last week to pick up his fifth firearm of the year, the Maryland State Police still hadn’t finished his background check. The store let him take the pistol anyway.
“I figure I can use my discretion,” owner Frank Loane Sr. told Schulte. “I know you.”
An unprecedented surge of applications to purchase guns has overwhelmed Maryland’s system for checking out the buyers. Dealers are required to wait seven days before releasing a firearm — which in the past has been enough time for the state police to complete the background check.
Lately, though, it’s taken two months or more. Citing state law, some dealers have stopped waiting.
“There’s a big frenzy out there,” said Fred W.J. Kirchner, vice president of the Maryland Association of Firearms Retailers and owner of Fred’s Firearm Service in Chestertown.
“I’ve got a stack of papers here I’m waiting to hear from the state police on, but I’ve already transferred the firearms. There’s nothing they can do about that,” said Kirchner, who like Loane said he gives guns only to people he knows have passed background checks before.
The rush to buy guns began in Maryland after the December shooting at a Connecticut elementary school sparked talk of tougher gun control laws, and it has continued at a record pace. In the first four months of this year, more applications were filed than in the entire period of 2008 to 2011. More than 57,000 applications had been received by the end of May.
The state police have asked dealers to continue to wait — the current delay is 10 weeks — as officials have tripled the staff to check applications, with troopers working 21 hours a day, seven days a week. At any given time, 17 to 29 troopers are consulting the required 16 databases to see if an applicant should be denied.