Judges: Weapon permit checks are now more thorough

Judges: Weapon permit checks are now more thorough
The Judges said that at one time, the background check just looked for felony crimes. (Source: WALB)
The Judges said that at one time, the background check just looked for felony crimes. (Source: WALB)
Nancy Stephenson (Source: WALB)
Nancy Stephenson (Source: WALB)
Melanie Gahring (Source: WALB)
Melanie Gahring (Source: WALB)

ALBANY, GA (WALB) - South Georgia probate judges say they are able to keep up with the time limits Georgia law requires on processing weapon carry permits, despite the intensifying of background checks now done by state and federal agencies.

"Most of the recent tragedies involving guns have been done by people who should never have owned or carried a gun in the first place," said Dougherty County Probate Judge Nancy Stephenson.

South Georgia probate judges said that recent mass shootings have led to increased research done in background checks for carry permits.

"When I started out it was so easy to look at someone's background and see if they had a felony conviction," said Stephenson. "Now it doesn't stop there."

Lee County Probate Judge Melanie Gahring agrees that background checks are more thorough.

"Absolutely," said Judge Gahring. "They are more thorough. The GCIC is now in with NCIC. So, we are getting things that did not appear before, now showing up."

The Judges said that at one time, the background check just looked for felony crimes.

But now the checks go nationally for convictions in other states, even misdemeanors.

They check for involuntary commitment for mental illnesses, strings of alcohol or drug convictions or substance abuse treatments. They also look for immigration status, military dishonorable discharge or court-martial. An automatic disqualifier is a domestic violence conviction or a civil protection order.

"I think the improvements are more of a kind of filtering system," said Gahring. "That's more narrowed in rather than broad like it was before."

Now a concern is the time it takes to do all of those checks.

GaCarry.org has filed a lawsuit against the Chatham County Probate Judge for violating the time requirements for issuing weapon carry licenses.

"We are bound to do it in a certain amount of time," explained Stephenson. "But we only have the same amount of people working on it."

Both Judge Stephenson and Judge Gahring check each application personally and make the final decision themselves.

They said that most of the applicants if approved, get their license in approximately two weeks.

WALB checked with the probate judges in Worth, Mitchell and other South Georgia counties. All said they are able to fill applications in timely manners.

"I'm thinking that people will feel more comfortable if they know how much harder we are looking into people's background before we entrust them with a concealed weapon's permit," said Stephenson.

Applying for the weapons carry permit license costs around $75 in all of the South Georgia counties WALB checked.

Most will have you go to the sheriff's office closest to the judge's office to be fingerprinted after filling out your application.

Several of the judges said that if you apply for the permit and delay going for your fingerprinting, that will be a red flag in the background checking process.

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