MADISON, Wis. - Wisconsin residents have overwhelmed the state Justice Department with so many concealed weapon permit applications agency officials say they probably won't meet deadlines for issuing approvals this month despite pulling dozens of employees from other tasks to help.
A state law that allows Wisconsin residents to carry concealed weapons went into effect Nov. 1. Under the law, state residents 21 or older who submit $50 to the Justice Department, pass an agency background check and prove they have received some firearms training can obtain a permit to carry. The law requires the agency to process applications received before Nov. 30 within 45 days. Any applications received after that date must be processed within 21 days.
As of Dec. 28, DOJ had received 64,832 applications, issued 36,373 permits and denied 800, mostly because addresses applicants submitted didn't match their addresses in state Department of Transportation records, DOJ spokeswoman Dana Brueck said.
DOJ Law Enforcement Services Division Administrator Brian O'Keefe said the agency has received anywhere from hundreds to thousands of applications in a single day. He said the agency likely will need one to two extra days beyond the 45- and 21-day windows to get permits processed for several weeks starting in early January.
"It's been a tremendous task for DOJ to try to keep up," O'Keefe said. "We'll always try to do what the law mandates we do ... (but) we're going to have a two-week period where we're below the limits."
The law doesn't impose any sanctions or penalties on DOJ or guarantee an applicant's approval if the agency fails to meet the deadlines. But people anxious to get their permits could find themselves waiting several days longer.
Jen Esser, a spokeswoman for Sen. Pam Galloway, R-Wausau, one of the law's chief authors, said the Justice Department hasn't shared any word of the delays with Galloway and declined further comment. Messages left for the bill's chief sponsor in the Assembly, Rep. Jeff Mursau, R-Crivitz, and his aides weren't returned.
The concealed carry law authorized $236,700 drawn from application fees for 11 new DOJ hires to help process applications, including 10 six-month employees whose jobs will end in March. However, the agency has been operating with only 10 of the new positions; two of the six-month workers left and the agency re-filled only one of the positions. End-of-the-year holidays have slowed processing down as well. O'Keefe said he's been forced to pull sometimes dozens of other DOJ employees a day from their regular tasks to work on applications.
Most of the workers have come from the agency's administrative arm, including employees from the training and standards bureau, the criminal history division and the records division. They've worked on days off and postponed vacations into next year to devote more time to the applications, O'Keefe said. DOJ has paid out about $30,000 in overtime on application work between Nov. 4 and Dec. 17, according to the agency's most recent figures, Brueck said.
The extra work on the applications hasn't directly affected criminal investigations, DOJ officials said. No special agents or crime lab specialists have been pulled off cases to help. But O'Keefe said moving so many administrative workers onto the applications has resulted in delays in updating criminal histories and scanning old histories into electronic formats. The agency also has been forced to postpone some training seminars.
"You start to get a sense of how busy we are right now," he said. "But because of the sheer volume and tight time limits we have to have our employees do this."
The Legislature's budget committee earlier this month approved a DOJ request to spend $1.5 million from application fees to hire more than two dozen additional employees to help with applications over the next two fiscal years. Eleven six-month employees will start work on Jan. 3 but will need up to a month of training. The remaining 14.5 employees will start in March, after the nine current limited-term positions end.
Once the first 11 employees are up to speed, DOJ officials plan to move administrative personnel back to their regular tasks full-time. Two workers within the second group of employees will focus on developing an electronic application system that will allow online applications and provide upgraded interfaces with other state and federal agencies, reducing the need for man hours.