Smith: Background checks increasing wait times on pistol permits


Individuals requesting or renewing a pistol permit are experiencing longer wait times than normal because of federal background checks, Sheriff Nick Smith said this week.

Act 2013-283, which took effect on Aug. 1, 2013, requires that sheriffs enter the names of pistol permit applicants in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.

"It doesn't matter if it's your first time or your 15th time, we have to do it every time you come in. It's not my rule. It's a law," Smith said.

Though the law took effect in 2013, it was not fully implemented at the Walker County Sheriff's Office until late in 2018. Since then, pistol permit applicants used to a speedier process have been waiting up to two hours in some cases, though the process can take only 30 minutes, according to Smith.

Smith said he and his staff are looking at ways to speed up the process and asked for patience in the meantime.

The wait time between requesting a pistol permit and receiving one depends on how many people have turned in applications on a particular day. 

The sheriff's office fields dozens of requests a day for pistol permits. Approximately 1,500 were issued in December, which is a typical number, according to Smith. 

"Each one of those permits is going to take about 30 minutes on a background check, and you may have people ahead of you who have already come by, filled out the application and left," Smith said.

He added that some applicants choose to run errands in town while the background check is being completed.

Smith recommended that individuals fill out an application and then return after someone from the office calls to say the background check has been completed.

The application is available online and can be emailed to or faxed it to 205-302-6100.

Applicants must come to the office in person to pick up a permit because a photo is required. Permits now closely resemble driver's licenses. 

The fee for a permit is $15 per year, and permits can be issued for up to five years.

Though the longer wait times have been frustrating for many, completing the background checks has prevented several individuals with violent felonies in their past from getting approved for a renewal.

The U.S. Department of Justice and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives announced in July that federally-licensed gun shops could no longer accept a pistol permit as proof that a criminal background check had been done on a buyer because some Alabama sheriffs were issuing permits without conduction full background checks or even when the application should have been denied.

More information can be found at or by watching a recent video posted on the department's Facebook page.