By Margie Wuebker
The Mercer County Sheriff’s Office processed 26 applications Thursday from people wishing to obtain licenses to carry concealed weapons.
The application processing yesterday coincides with the effective date of recently passed Ohio legislation.
The first applicant showed up prior to 6:30 p.m. to capture first place in the line. He was waiting when office personnel arrived.
Eighteen Mercer County residents submitted applications. Five came from residents of Auglaize County, where registrations have been stalled due to problems with computer software. The remaining three drove in from Darke County. People interested in applying for a permit have the option of doing so in their home county or a contiguous one.
The process went smoothly despite several unanticipated glitches, one of which involves use of a computer system that tracks criminal history nationwide. A few applicants failed to bring along the required color photograph — one taken within 30 days (similar to a 2-inch by 2-inch passport photo).
It took about 11Ú2 hours to resolve a relatively minor computer glitch discovered shortly after the office opened. However, a larger problem has complicated the process of criminal background checks.
Sheriff Jeff Grey received notification early Thursday morning that one source of background material on applicants would not be available to aid in background checks.
Grey, as well as other sheriffs throughout the state codeged with overseeing the program, were informed the Law Enforcement Automated Data System (LEADS) could not be used for the checks.
“This is very frustrating,” he told The Daily Standard this morning. “ We have been told the required background checks are a licensing issue and not a criminal justice matter. I don’t agree with that in the least. If someone falsifies information on the application that is a criminal justice issue.”
Grey added there has been cooperation throughout the implementation process as Ohio became the 47th state to adopt concealed carry legislation.
“If LEADS usage was going to be a problem why didn’t we find out 30, 60 or 90 days ago,” he wondered aloud. It’s frustrating because the information we need is right there at our fingertips.”
County sheriffs, who oversee the application process and have the authority to issue or deny a permit within a 45-day window, can use a computerized link to the Bureau of Criminal Investigation and Identification in London. Fingerprints are submitted electronically and a subsequent printout provides information regarding any criminal convictions in the state.
LEADS, which is reserved for law enforcement use, goes a step further by supplying nationwide information. The system is operated by the Ohio State Highway Patrol under the auspices of the Ohio Department of Public Safety in Columbus.
Hancock County Sheriff Mike Heldman, president of the Buckeye State Sheriff’s Association, reported his organization is looking into the matter. However, he added the application process will continue as planned.
“This development certainly makes our job much harder,” he said. “We may have to spend a lot of time making phone calls to obtain information LEADS could provide in a matter of 30 seconds or so.”
A meeting held Thursday afternoon in Columbus apparently brought no resolution to the matter. Participants included representatives of Attorney General Jim Petro’s office, who are working with the sheriffs in implementing the new legislation, and LEADS/Ohio Department of Public Safety officials who operate under the umbrella of Ohio Gov. Bob Taft. Additional meetings are likely in the coming weeks.
“We are permitted to run the driver’s license of an applicant through LEADS, but all that will tell us is past traffic offenses, whether the person is wanted and whether he’s under a civil protection order,” Grey said. “I don’t care how many speeding tickets an applicant has accumulated; I need a criminal history that extends beyond Ohio.”
The sheriff added this is particularly important given Mercer County’s close proximity to Indiana. An Ohioan convicted of a felony in Indiana is not likely to show up on the WebCheck printout.
Applicants, who have lived in Ohio for less than five years, will pay not only the $45 application fee but an additional $24 for an FBI fingerprint and background check. He is not sure the legislation allows FBI checks for everyone.
“The concealed carry law is not a bad law,” Grey said. “That is if we can apply it the way the legislature intended through thorough background checks. We need to make sure only eligible people obtain licenses and I fear some might fall through the cracks because of this new development.”
Sheriff’s offices receive $25 of the $45 fee to cover their costs, which include overtime for night and weekend hours. Grey estimates it will take 328 permits to offset the cost of an $8,200 machine to produce the licenses. He expects to issue more than that in the weeks ahead based on interest expressed thus far.
The sheriff’s office, located at 125 W. Livingston St. in Celina, has implemented a schedule to handle the anticipated influx of applicants. The hours are: 8-10 a.m. and 6-8 p.m. on Mondays, 1-3 p.m. on Wednesdays and Thursdays, and noon-3 p.m. on Saturdays.
Anyone unable to come during the above times should call the sheriff’s office at (419) 586-5770 during business hours and make an appointment with the sheriff, Lt. Angie Brunswick or Deputy Lori Knapke to complete the application process that includes fingerprinting.