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Police to waive handgun license for buyers hit by delays

Maryland's new handgun licensing law will be waived for the nearly 50,000 gun buyers still waiting for background checks, the state police said Tuesday.

The department also deployed a new team of two dozen data-entry workers to help address the backlog, which has left gun purchasers waiting for months.

Maryland's new gun law, which takes effect Tuesday, calls for handgun buyers to give their fingerprints to law enforcement and get a $50 license. An advisory letter from the attorney general said even buyers who applied long ago would have to comply with those provisions if they didn't pick up their firearm until Oct. 1 or after.

But the Maryland State Police announced Tuesday that the department would not enforce that part of the law for handgun buyers who applied for a background check before Oct. 1.

More than 102,000 gun purchase applications for both handguns and other regulated firearms have been submitted to police so far this year — twice the number received in all of 2011. As of Friday, a little less than half were still waiting for their background checks to be completed.

"In light of the number of currently pending applications — resulting from the unprecedented spike in new applications in recent months — it is a fair, reasoned, and appropriate result," state police spokesman Greg Shipley said in a statement.

Two weeks ago, Gov. Martin O'Malley pledged all the resources necessary to attack the backlog of background checks before the law took effect. More than 40 state employees from five agencies spent a week entering information from paper applications into a database, drawing complaints and a lawsuit from gun rights groups about privacy concerns.

On Friday, officials assigned 24 employees from the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services to work on data entry amid a new surge of applications to buy firearms.

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