Plaintiffs can seek damages in lawsuit over Wake County pistol-permit delays

Sept. 13 — Wake County Sheriff Gerald Baker addresses media about his department's continued backlog of pistol permit applications.

RALEIGH — A ruling by a U.S. District Court judge will allow plaintiffs who challenged the temporary suspension of the issuance of pistol permits to seek damage claims.

Judge Louise Flanagan issued the recent ruling in the case of Stafford v. Baker, a lawsuit brought by the Second Amendment Foundation, Grass Roots North Carolina and Firearms Policy Coalition on behalf of North Carolina-resident Kelly Stafford. Flanagan is a federal judge on the United States District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina.

Flanagan’s ruling notes that Stafford was able to eventually obtain a permit, making the need for injunctive relief moot; however, the judge wrote that “remaining claims are allowed to proceed, including plaintiffs’ claims for nominal damages under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (first claim), and associated claims for declaratory relief and attorney’s fees.”

The groups sought an injunction to stop Wake County Sheriff Gerald Baker from temporarily suspending applications being accepted for pistol permits and concealed-carry permits between the end March 2020 through April 30, 2020.

In the lawsuit, the plaintiffs said Baker’s suspension of permits was a “de facto categorical ban the likes of which is absolutely prohibited under the supreme law of the land.”

North State Journal asked the Wake County Sheriff’s Office for a reaction to the ruling.

“Recently, the Court issued an Order on the Motion to Dismiss allowing this case to move forward, based on the facts alleged in the Complaint. This is a preliminary ruling based on the pleadings without either party presenting evidence,” wrote the Wake County’s Sheriff’s Office. “Prior to the filing of this lawsuit and continuing to date, the Wake County Sheriff’s Office continues to receive an unprecedented number of Pistol Purchase and Concealed Handgun Permit applications.”

The statement also said that “Wake County Sheriff Gerald Baker stands by his decision to protect his office’s staff, the public, and inmates from potential exposure to COVID-19, by placing a temporary halt on the acceptance of applications, until proper health precautions could be implemented.”

“While we understand concerns about the coronavirus that erupted at the time, one simply cannot suspend the ability of private citizens to exercise their constitutional rights,” Alan Gottlieb, Second Amendment Foundation founder and executive vice president, said in a statement.

“Using COVID-19 as his rationalization, Sheriff Baker sought to unlawfully and unconstitutionally suspend North Carolinians right to keep and bear arms,” Grassroots NC president Paul Valone said.

Valone went on to say that Grassroots NC “will take action against any and all such attacks on the rights of citizens and calls upon Republicans who control the General Assembly to finally repeal the Jim Crow-era pistol purchase permit system that is being routinely abused.”

“We’re glad Kelly was able to finally get her PPP, but that wasn’t the point,” said Gottlieb. “The Constitution doesn’t take a day off, even in a declared state of emergency. And neither do we.”

About A.P. Dillon 403 Articles
A.P. Dillon is a North State Journal reporter located near Raleigh, North Carolina. Find her on Twitter: @APDillon_