Wis. DOJ catches up on concealed carry permits

MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- State Justice Department officials say they've caught up with the deluge of concealed carry applications and are meeting turn-around deadlines again.

DOJ Division of Law Enforcement Administrator Brian O'Keefe said the agency was so overwhelmed with applications it couldn't meet its processing deadlines for most of January. But the agency has brought more workers on board to help with processing and the flow of applications has slowed, he said.

"We're meeting all of our obligations," O'Keefe said. "(It's) still a lot to process."

Under Wisconsin's new concealed carry law, people could start submitting permit applications to the Justice Department on Nov. 1. The agency is required to run a background check on each applicant and verify he or she has submitted proof of firearms training before issuing a permit. The law gives the agency 45 days to process applications received before Nov. 30 and 21 days to process applications received after that.

DOJ has scrambled to keep up with submissions since the first day the law took effect.

As of Feb. 6, the department's firearms unit has received 81,728 applications, an average of nearly 834 applications a day, and issued 71,058 permits. The unit received nearly 8,000 applications on one day, O'Keefe said.

Meanwhile, the unit has been overwhelmed with calls to its handgun hotline since the law took effect. Gun dealers call the hotline to initiate background checks on buyers; the firearms unit must complete those checks within 48 hours. The hotline recorded 13,023 calls in December, a new monthly record. Over the first six days of February the hotline received 3,500 calls, including 700 on Feb. 4 alone.

DOJ officials hired 11 additional workers to handle applications and hotline work, but two of them quit and only one was replaced. End-of-the-year holidays also slowed the unit's efforts.

O'Keefe pulled dozens of administrative workers from elsewhere within DOJ to help with concealed carry applications -- the agency has spent $44,000 on overtime for application processing between November and January -- but the unit still fell behind. It started missing deadlines on Dec. 29 and stayed behind for three weeks.

The unit caught up again on Jan. 21. Another 11 workers the agency hired on Jan. 3 finished their training and started helping around mid-month, O'Keefe said. The initial rush of application submissions slowed, too, from sometimes thousands a day to hundreds, he said.

The agency has now completed all the 45-day applications and nearly all the workers pulled from other assignments have returned to their regular duties, O'Keefe said.

DOJ spokeswoman Dana Brueck said she couldn't provide any figures on how many permits were delayed or for how long, although she said some applicants had to wait an additional four or five days.

The agency doesn't face any formal sanctions for missing the deadlines.