Gun groups sue Wayne County over alleged concealed pistol license delays
Detroit — A coalition of gun ownership groups and three Wayne County residents filed suit last week against Wayne County Clerk Cathy Garrett, alleging Michigan's largest county is slow in processing concealed pistol license applications and renewals, even by pandemic standards.
CPL applicants in Wayne County have been faced with long waits of a year or more for an appointment, advocates say.
"We want the court to order the clerk to do her job," said Terry Johnson, a Detroit-based attorney for Michigan Open Carry, Inc., one of the groups bringing the suit. "The clerk hasn't stopped doing the functions required by her job, except for the processing of CPLs."
The lawsuit claims Garrett's office stopped processing licenses and renewals on Feb. 21 and that her office previously took about 14 months to process applications while other Michigan counties take about two months.
"To the best of the plaintiffs’ knowledge and belief, no other county clerk in the state of Michigan is denying or delaying the acceptance of application, the refusal of administration of oath to their county residents who apply for a CPL, nor renewal of their county residents CPL permits," according to the suit.
The Michigan Coalition for Responsible Gun Owners, Inc., Michigan Gun Owners, Inc., Stephanie Waters, Sam Ditzhazy and Derek Younce are also suing.
While the clerk's office declined to comment on the lawsuit, a lack of staffing at the CPL call center was discussed by a Wayne County Commission committee last week.
The Wayne County clerk's website on Tuesday indicated its scheduling system for concealed pistol licenses is down and encourages applicants to "check back in the coming weeks."
When a CPL applicant applies for a license, they file the application in-person at the clerk's office. They sign the application under oath, have their picture taken, pay the fee of $100, and leave with a receipt, said Detroit firearms instructor Rick Ector. CPL applicants also need to be fingerprinted separately.
Ector said he has taught gun safety to thousands of would-be CPL applicants.
"It's bad for business," Ector said of the delays. "And it's really disappointing for students who finally decided to take the steps to get a license."
Michigan law makes no distinction between former CPL holders with expired licenses, and would-be licensees who haven't applied yet, Ector said. This puts licensees nearing expiration at risk, he said.
"We all understand there are delays with Covid," Johnson said. "But if this was marriage licenses or divorces that weren't being processed, would we really be having this conversation?"
Johnson said his concern is not merely about firearms. People who carry stun guns in Michigan need CPLs too.
And he said the concern is not merely about personal safety, either, but also livelihood.
"What about people who work in security jobs?" Johnson asked. "What about reserve officers waiting for their licenses, so they can go protect their communities?"
The Wayne County executive's office has requested that the Wayne County Commission shift about $97,000 from the county's general fund to the clerk's office so it can "stand up a call center," explained Hughey Newsome, the county's chief financial officer.
Newsome briefed the commission's Ways and Means Committee at its March 23 meeting. The full board meets again Thursday but that agenda hasn't been finalized.
The funds will cover six positions.
"The clerk’s office continues to await updates from Wayne County...for staffing and the Wayne County Building Division for office space," Garrett said in a statement to The News about staffing issues.
"I don't want to get political or anything," said Commissioner Terry Marecki, R-Livonia, "but every time there's some kind of talk about gun control at the national level, I seem to get an influx of letters from people who are nervous about getting their CPL."
Finding people to hire is a problem across departments as the county struggles with a high number of vacant positions, including more than 200 openings in the sheriff's office as well as the budget office, which is seeking to contract with a private firm, Rehmann, during the budget season because of staff shortages.
"We have 12 positions funded already, we just need to actually find the bodies to fill these positions, and we need the space as well," Deputy Clerk Dwayne Seals told the committee.
Marecki joked she'd open her home for the cause.
"Our objective is all the same, but we have to work with urgency on all parts to make it happen," Marecki said.
The would-be staffers also need to pass background checks.
Asked about staffing issues in the clerk's office Tuesday, Marecki said "I know they know it's a problem."
Marecki, the lone Republican on the commission, represents a western Wayne district including most of Livonia as well as Northville city and township.
"COVID did not help" speed at the office, she acknowledged, but Marecki said a constituent recently passed along a piece of good news.
Their appointment had been set for January 2022 but was moved up to June of this year, Marecki said.
"Things are starting to happen," Marecki said. "I'm hoping it's moving in the right direction."
Legislature considering changes
Lansing has taken notice of slow CPL processing speeds during the pandemic.
In March, the Michigan Senate passed a bill that would "prohibit an executive order or emergency order...from affecting a law enforcement agency's duty to provide fingerprinting for the purposes of the law."
State Sen. Lana Theis, R-Brighton, introduced the legislation. In the Michigan House, the bill was referred to the Military, Veterans and Homeland Security Committee.
It would also allow Michigan State Police to issue a PIN number to current licensees so they could renew their licenses online, according to a Senate Fiscal Agency analysis.
The online renewal process has been around since 2018, but currently requires a renewal notification letter from a county clerk.
CPLs are valid for five years.