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N.D. catches up with backlog for concealed weapons licenses

BISMARCK — The time it takes to process an application for a concealed weapons license in North Dakota is back on track after a backlog caused by a record number of applications last year, Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem said Wednesday.

The state Bureau of Criminal Investigations received a record 14,729 applications in 2013, more than double the 6,254 applications received in 2011.

The high volume overwhelmed BCI staff, creating longer wait times for applicants at a time when a recent change in state law had raised the application fee from $45 to $60.

To help alleviate the backlog, the BCI hired additional employees and reassigned existing staff, approved more overtime and even used senior citizen volunteers three days a week to help with filing and stuffing envelopes.

North Dakota law requires the BCI to approve or deny a concealed weapons license within 60 days of receiving a properly completed application, and the attorney general’s office acknowledged in October that the deadline wasn’t being met.

Stenehjem said Wednesday that the BCI dropped below the 60-day processing time on Jan. 24, and the current average wait is 35 days, “well under the statutory limit.”

His office had attributed the backlog to the sheer volume of applications, particularly a large spike that occurred in the months before a new law took effect Aug. 1. The law increased the application fee from $45 to $60 to cover the cost of a new requirement for fingerprint-based criminal history checks by the FBI. It also put the responsibility for processing applications — including all background checks — entirely in the hands of the BCI, whereas previously local police and sheriff’s offices would first do local background checks.

During two weeks in February, the BCI logged more than 245 hours in extra staff and overtime hours and completed more than 1,100 federal criminal history checks, according to Stenehjem’s office.

BCI Deputy Director Lonnie Grabowska said the bureau kept a close eye on its employees to avoid burnout, and he called the efforts of BCI staff and senior volunteers from the RSVP program “phenomenal.”

“Everyone just kind of buckled down and got everything caught up,” he said.

The BCI continues to closely monitor the number of applications for new licenses and renewals and has staff ready to jump in if needed, Grabowska said.

North Dakota had 30,997 active resident and nonresident concealed weapons licenses in effect at the end of February.

Mike Nowatzki

Mike Nowatzki reports for Forum News Service. He can be reached at (701) 255-5607.