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Groton - An explosion in the number of handgun permit applications has led to long waits, some frustration and now changes at the Groton Town Police Department.
Groton Town Police Chief Michael Crowley told the Town Council Tuesday that the department is now scheduling fingerprinting, a requirement for the background check that accompanies a handgun permit application, once a week rather than twice a month.
While the department usually averages 100 to 125 applications annually, Crowley said, it is on track to triple that this year. The department has received 169 applications to date, 100 of which are still being processed, in part because of a backlog at the state level.
While state numbers were not immediately available, state police Lt. J. Paul Vance has said handgun permit applications have risen dramatically since the Dec. 14 school shooting in Newtown and the resulting debate at the state level over stricter gun laws.
Crowley's announcement comes on the heels of comments by 26-year-old Sean Paddock of Groton, a member of the U.S. Navy, who publicly criticized the chief's policies and said the long waits were running counter to state law, which requires an answer on an application within eight weeks.
Paddock obtained his handgun permit from the state in early June, despite what he said was an unnecessary requirement that fingerprinting be done at the police department.
He had asked the council for helping correcting the process.
"It's very frustrating," Paddock said during a recent interview. "I was simply asking them to follow state statute."
Paddock said he initially approached the department in March and was told that his wait would be at least until August.
To obtain a handgun permit, applicants first must apply in their municipality and must obtain a temporary, 60-day permit from the chief of police or first selectman before obtaining a five-year permit from the state.
By state law, a person can be declared ineligible for a permit if they have committed felonies or certain misdemeanors, have a history of mental illness, have pending restraining or protective orders, or by an issuing authority using its discretion to deem the applicant "unsuitable."
In an attempt to speed up the process, Paddock said, he first obtained a federal fingerprint card from the Navy and later was fingerprinted at state police headquarters in Middletown.
Groton Town police did not accept either, and his application sat in limbo.
Paddock, with a representative from the law firm of Rachel M. Baird, appealed his case to the Board of Firearms Permit Examiners, who essentially directed Crowley to process Paddock's permit.
In a May 9 hearing, the board ruled the Groton Police Department was "without just and proper cause to deny the application."
The board also made two observations: that the Groton police must accept fingerprints from outside agencies and that the department has eight weeks, by law, to make some kind of determination on the application.
At the time, the department was scheduling fingerprints on every other Wednesday, between 8:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m.
Paddock got his temporary permit from the town, but when he went to get his five-year permit from the state, he was denied because the Groton police chief had not signed the form. The chief finally did sign the temporary permit. Dated May 28, it bears a message: "I do not feel this subject should have a permit."
A former submariner, Paddock has been in the Navy for 8½ years. He holds security clearances and has no criminal record. Paddock said he has no history with Crowley, but thinks the message is a response to him pushing for his Second Amendment rights and questioning Crowley's authority.
While Crowley was unavailable for comment regarding Paddock's remarks, he said at town council meeting Tuesday night that gun permit applications are now being processed more efficiently, with a "full court press."
"We are doing our due diligence," Crowley said.
New London Deputy Chief Peter Reichard said his department fingerprints residents from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays and from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturdays. The department has 50 outstanding applications, with 15 being scheduled for interviews within the next two to three weeks, Reichard said.
"As we get the fingerprint results back from the state, we set up interviews," he said.
In Norwich, Lt. Al Costa said the department has been handling 14 to 16 applications a week. The department takes walk-ins depending on the availability of an officer to handle the fingerprinting.