The number of applications for firearms purchases has risen to unprecedented levels since the school shooting in Newtown, Conn., in December and the ensuing push for tighter gun laws in Maryland and elsewhere. The state police have responded by tripling the staff who work on background checks and conducting them 21 hours a day, seven days a week. (The only reason it's not 24 hours a day is that many of the databases that are consulted as part of the checks shut down for maintenance between midnight and 3 a.m.) The police and Gov. Martin O'Malley's office are continuing to look for other ways to speed up the process. But so strong is the irrational fervor to buy guns before Maryland's new gun control laws take effect on Oct. 1 — laws that, incidentally, do not stop law-abiding adults from getting weapons for self defense, hunting and sport shooting — that the state faces a backlog of about 100 days in completing the checks.