Maryland Handgun Background Check System Crashes, Leaving Gun Buyers in Limbo

State police have no timetable for return on legally required background checks

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June 25, 2020

Maryland's background check system has crashed, creating new hurdles for residents who are already subject to one of the strictest gun-control regimes in the country.

Maryland State Police confirmed on Tuesday night that the system they use to process background checks for handgun-purchase permits crashed on Sunday and remains down. The state police are now advising dealers to hold recently purchased handguns as they attempt to fix the system but have provided no timetable for fixing the issue. Marylanders may have to wait well beyond the seven days required under state law to take home their legally purchased handguns.

"The Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services (DPSCS) experienced a failure in their data system, which has inhibited our ability to do complete background checks for individuals purchasing regulated firearms or applying for handgun qualification licenses or carry permits," state police spokesman Greg Shipley told the Washington Free Beacon. "The Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services is working diligently to fix the problem."

The system's crash has hampered the Second Amendment rights of state residents, according to gun-rights activists. Mark Pennak, president of the gun-rights group Maryland Shall Issue, said his members are being affected by the delays. He said the problem was compounded by the state's gun laws, which are among the strictest in the nation, especially when it comes to purchasing handguns. The week-long waiting period becomes indefinite as long as background checks cannot be performed.

"It affects members as the dealers are being encouraged by the MSP not to release handguns to purchasers because of the computer failure," Pennak told the Free Beacon. "So, the seven-day wait, mandated by state law, is now being extended to an indefinite wait all because of this failure at the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services. The bureaucratic obstacles imposed by Maryland just got higher."

Unlike most states, Maryland requires residents to obtain a permit before purchasing handguns and processes background checks for those permits through its state police instead of the FBI. It also requires a seven-day waiting period between the purchase and when the customer can take possession of the gun. An advisory sent to gun dealers by the department blamed "a catastrophic hardware failure within [DPSCS's] data center" for the delays. A department spokesman did not respond to a request for comment about the specific cause of the crash.

Pennak said the process is more vulnerable to failure points like the system crash because it is already more complicated than existing protocols in other states.

"Maryland makes it really difficult already," he said. "And, so, if there's something that goes wrong with Maryland's bureaucracy it becomes quite impossible. People don't have that problem in Virginia. Most of the country, you don't have to go through this."

Maryland law does include a safeguard for situations in which background checks are not being processed. If the check, which is designed to be instantaneous, is not completed within the seven-day waiting period, a gun dealer may release the firearm to its customer. The advisory sent out by state police, however, "encourages" gun dealers "not to transfer these firearms until background checks have been completed."

Shipley said the state police are prepared to process background checks as soon as the system comes back online.

"The Maryland State Police Licensing Division has a staff on standby and a plan of action to work around the clock to complete background checks as soon as the system is restored at DPSCS," he said. "We are hoping the issue will be resolved as soon as possible."

*UPDATE June 25, 10:09 a.m.

DPSCS spokesman Mark Vernarelli told the Free Beacon on Thursday morning that the handgun check system has been restored. He said the system does not appear to have been breached but officials have yet to determine the cause of the outage.

"The Department’s Internet Technology and Communications Division has found no evidence of a security breach having caused the temporary outage," Vernarelli said.

The Maryland State Police said the agency has begun processing the handgun background checks held up by the system crash but emphasized that the backlog would take several days to clear.

"Licensing Division employees worked throughout the night and will continue to work around-the-clock until all pending and incoming regulated firearm purchase applications have been reviewed and are being completed within Maryland's required seven day waiting period," the agency said in a statement. "Even with employees working 24-hours-a-day to address this, the process is anticipated to take several days to complete."