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POWERS: SD’s pistol permit system faster than a speeding ... snail

By Pat Powers

Dakota War College

When I was with the Secretary of State’s Office, I was in charge of administrative services. Someone else did elections and someone else did the business stuff. I handled the weird stuff that didn’t fall in those categories.

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The Blue Book was all me. I was in charge of athletic agent registrations, lobbyist registrations and notary registrations. I handled some of the space issues, such as cube confi guration, making sure we maximized our space. I also dealt with some of our historic holdings, such as the state seal and our items in archives.

Among all of this weird and fun stuff I was in charge of was the ancient pistol permit system, which hasn’t changed in decades.

The system is that people go into their local sheriff’s office, and they fill out a paper form. The sheriff does a background check and sizes them up for not being habitually drunk and other things. Then, once the background check comes back, they take their fee and remit the remainder and a pile of paper to Pierre.

Once in Pierre at the Secretary of State’s Office, the information gets hand-entered into a database that exists solely for the purpose of printing the cards and administering the database. The cards are each and individually placed by hand in little laminating pockets, and sent slowly and painstakingly through a laminator at a snail’s pace.

Then, they’re matched back up to their appropriate envelope and “congrats, here’s your permit letter” and mailed, with part from the accompanying three-part form going in a fi le cabinet.

For this, people are charged $10 each for staff time from everyone involved, which when permits come at a record pace as they have since President Obama took offi ce, means there’s little time for much else for the person producing them. The point is there’s a lot of personnel time, not to mention the costs for the materials, supplies and postage.

There were attempts to modernize this system, but sometimes it wasn’t worth the battle to make things better. Sheriffs were supportive of making it better, but reality is that some sheriff’s offices aren’t terribly updated on their computers. And you have some gun groups who are against things being computerized or raising the fee to $12 or $15 to make sure that users pay for the actual costs involved in issuing them.

The end result is they’re still slogged through by everyone being handwritten, checked, mailed, entered, printed and re-mailed at a snail’s pace. Sheriffs still lose money, the state loses money and work is duplicated, over and over.

With all the emotional opposition to changing what’s there, we’ve got a long way to go before the process is finally dragged into at least the 1990s or 2000s. I may not live to see the day when it happens, and I’m in my 40s. So when someone proposes in the Legislature that the permits are handed out for free, having seen the other side of it, I’m not a supporter.

It’s not a Second Amendment issue. It’s a “paying for the service you use” issue. And at $10, with everyone losing money on the process at each step, that’s not a lot to ask — even for a system that was old and broken when the argument started.

—  Pat Powers is operator of S.D. War College, a conservative blog dedicated to South Dakota politics.