In the Commonwealth of Virginia, concealed handgun permits (CHP’s) are issued for five-year terms. If you want one, the application process is relatively simple . . . although tedious. You have to be at least twenty-one years old, fill out a standard application form (PDF link), get it notarized, and attach the required proof of competence with a handgun (like a certificate from an NRA training course, a copy of a previous CHP, evidence of law enforcement or military training, etc.). You also have to provide a list of previous names and addresses (if applicable) and pay a fee. The cost is limited by the Code of Virginia to a maximum of fifty dollars—a fixed ten dollar court fee, a local law enforcement fee of up-to thirty-five dollars, and a State Police fee of up-to five dollars.

Once all of that is done, you submit all of your information to your local circuit court clerk. Their office reviews it and then sends copies to the local law enforcement agency and the Virginia State Police so they can each run the necessary background checks. Within forty-five days, assuming that you pass the background checks and aren’t disqualified for some reason, the court is required to issue your permit by mail. Once you receive it, you are licensed to exercise your constitutional right to keep and bear arms for five years (except in certain places where firearms are prohibited). You can add your Second Amendment license to your pile of other civil rights licenses. No, wait, sorry. You don’t need a license for any of your other civil rights.

Anyway . . . after your five years are up, you have to repeat the process all over again. Although you now get to check the ‘renewal’ box in the standard application form, and you get to use a copy of your previous CHP as your proof of competence, everything else is exactly the same.

Back in 2008, I went through this process for the first time. I lived in Fairfax County, Virginia, so I had to deal with the Office of the Clerk of the Fairfax County Circuit Court. The Fairfax County Police Department (FCPD) was responsible for the local law enforcement background check. Of course FCPD chose to charge the maximum permitted fee, which wasn’t surprising, but the court seemed to go out of their way to make the process as complicated as they could within the confines of the law.

I had to provide copies of the entire application in triplicate—one for the court, one for FCPD, and one for the State Police—all hand-delivered to the clerk of the circuit court in Fairfax City during business hours. I had to provide a self-addressed stamped envelope (because the court fee couldn’t possibly cover the cost of a stamp and envelope). The form had to be notarized so that the court could be sure that I was the one filling out the form . . . even though I had to deliver it in-person and they could have easily validated my identity on their own. And of course, the court couldn’t possibly accept a normal personal check . . . payment had to be in cash, money order, or certified check.

Taking a quick look at the information on the Fairfax County Circuit Court web site, it looks like the process is still basically the same. Instead of triplicate, now it’s only duplicate . . . and you’re allowed to submit the paperwork by mail now, which probably only changed because the Code of Virginia was amended and now counties can’t make you appear in-person. They have also joined the 1990s and can accept credit cards, but only if you file in person.

And even after making me jump through all of these hoops back in 2008, the Fairfax County Circuit Court still failed to issue my permit within the required forty-five day period. The deadline fell on January 1, 2009, but my permit did not arrive until January 7 (with a January 6 postmark). Of course, they made the effort to back-date the issue date on the permit itself to December 29 . . . so I’m sure it appears in the court’s records as having been issued ‘on-time’ even though it wasn’t.

That original permit expired on December 29, 2013 . . . so I recently had to go through the whole process again to renew it. I moved to Loudoun County in 2009, so this time I had to deal with the Office of the Clerk of the Loudoun County Circuit Court. The Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office (LCSO) was responsible for the local law enforcement background check. How did the experience differ? Well, while Fairfax seemed to want to make the process as hard as it possibly could, Loudoun seems to have taken the opposite approach—requiring only what is required by state law, and making the process as painless as possible for those citizens who want to exercise their civil rights.

I only had to provide one copy of the application and supporting documents—apparently Loudoun County can afford a photocopier, and can cover the costs of making photocopies in the ten dollar court fee. The application still had to be notarized because I mailed it in, but if I had decided to submit in-person the notarization would not have been necessary. I didn’t have to provide a self-addressed stamped envelope; again, the cost of postage and an envelope was covered under the court fee. I paid the fee with a personal check and didn’t have to deal with a cashier’s check or money order. The LCSO only charged twenty-five dollars and fifty cents for the background check, compared to FCPD’s decision to charge the legal maximum of thirty-five, so the total fee in Loudoun is only forty dollars and fifty cents.

I was supposed to file my renewal paperwork at least forty-five days before my old permit expired . . . indeed, the court encourages citizens to submit renewals at least ninety days before the expiration date to ensure that there is no break. But with everything else going on, I completely lost track of the date and filed very, very late. I finally dropped my completed application packet into the mailbox on December 24, 2013, less than a week before my old permit was set to expire. I fully expected that I would have to go a month or even a bit longer without a valid CHP.

So when did my new permit arrive? I found it in my mailbox on January 11, 2014 . . . well within the forty-five day limit. In fact, I was ‘between permits’ for only two weeks despite my own failure to request a renewal in a timely manner.

Although I make half-serious comments about how no other civil rights require a license, I’m actually not bothered by concealed carry laws . . . provided there are reasonably-easy ways for law-abiding citizens to obtain a CHP, and reasonably-easy ways to appeal unjustified denials. I only object to these laws when they are used as excuses to deny innocent citizens’ right to bear arms, which is what we see in some states (like Maryland) that have CHP laws on the books but virtually never actually issue permits. I also think that state-issued CHP permits need to be accepted nationwide under the ‘full faith and credit’ principle.

But there is a right way and a wrong way to handle the CHP system—illustrated perfectly by the contrast between my experiences in Fairfax County and Loudoun County.

Fairfax made every effort they were permitted to make under the limits of state law to throw roadblocks in my way. They charged the highest fee they were permitted to charge. They took their sweet time issuing the permit, and even lied about the issue date to cover their own asses. For me, this was all just a bunch of hassle and annoyance . . . but for somebody with less disposable income, less education, and less flexibility to take off work it might have been a complete deal-breaker. In other words, the people who tend to need CHP’s the most—those who live in poorer neighborhoods with higher crime rates—were the most likely to have their rights denied, either because they couldn’t afford the fee or couldn’t navigate the overly-convoluted process.

Meanwhile, just one county out to the west, we see a system working the way it is supposed to work: modest fees, minimal roadblocks, clear instructions, quick service. And don’t forget that Loudoun in still reviewing the application and performing the required background checks before issuing a permit, so the streamlined process—while easier for you and me—doesn’t make things any easier for the bad guys who will [or should] still fail the background check. The system in Loudoun is less of a headache and, perhaps more importantly, it is more accessible to those with less money and less education than I have.

This is yet another reason why I am very thankful to live where I live, in a county that respects me and respects my desire to exercise one of my fundamental civil rights.