GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A new Michigan law creating universal background checks for all firearms will add to sheriff’s departments’ workloads, requiring them to approve more gun purchases.

Kent County Sheriff Michelle LaJoye-Young told News 8 she supports background checks for long guns, just like the checks already required for pistols. But with staffing and turnover already a challenge, the changes won’t be easy to handle.

“It gives me a lot of stress because our desire is to serve the community in every way that we’re expected to serve and there are definitely some challenges today in finding staff and, frankly, funds to pay for the staff,” LaJoye-Young said Tuesday. “If I had a struggle point, it’s how are we going to accommodate this and how are we going to put systems in place to do that in a timely manner? That’s always the struggle with new legislation.”

For her department, handling the new law requiring universal background checks is a delicate balance.

“It obviously is going to cause an influx of some work,” LaJoye-Young said. “We do hope the overall benefit will outweigh the amount of work that we’re going to have to add to accommodate it.”

House and Senate Democrats passed universal background checks, safe storage measures and extreme risk protection orders after a shooting on Michigan State University’s campus left three students dead and another five wounded. The reforms take effect 90 days after the end of the legislative session — so sometime early next year.

When the law goes into effect, background checks will be done on long guns no matter how they are purchased. If you get a gun at a federal firearm dealer, most already do automatic background checks on the spot, the sheriff explained.

“Once you’ve completed that, you’ll legally purchase that weapon and you’ll possess it to the extent you’re legally able to possess,” LaJoye-Young said. “None of that is really changing in this.”

What is changing involves private transactions. Currently, if you buy a pistol at a gun show or from someone you know, you have to get a license from the sheriff’s office. The Kent County Sheriff’s Office issued 1,500 pistol licenses in 2022 and has already issued 400 so far this year. Going forward with the new law, if you buy a long gun from a private citizen, you also have to get a background check done at the sheriff’s office.

”It’s a very subtle change,” the sheriff explained. “All the rules we’ve had with a pistol are now being extended to … any long gun.”

Because long guns don’t need to be registered in Michigan, it’s unclear exactly how much work the sheriff’s office will need to do, making it hard to prepare.

“The issue really for a sheriff’s office or any other police department is there is a whole group of transactions that have not previously been included in this, which is that private sale,” LaJoye-Young said. “So I have no way of knowing how many of them are out there.”

What is clear is the department’s records division will handle the extra workload. It’s the group already tasked with Freedom of Information Act requests and fingerprinting for employment background checks. The sheriff says turnover in that division can already be high.

“As the workload continues to compile, it becomes harder and harder to keep staff at that point,” LaJoye-Young said.

The sheriff hopes to hire more staff to help out but there’s no guarantee.

“Maybe expect some administrative changes to accommodate the extra work and understand it’s going to take more resources for us to get up to speed,” LaJoye-Young said.

The sheriff’s office plans to make the process electronic so a background check is completed before people pick up a gun license. Though that would speed up the process, the documentation would also require a notary, the sheriff explained.

“That’s probably going to be an in-person pickup of the purchase permit,” she said. “We are vetting also remote services that might accommodate the law but right now it looks like it will be an in-person pickup.”

As law enforcement adjusts to the new reality, the sheriff asked for understanding.

“We encourage our community to be patient with not only us but other law enforcement agencies as we are striving to accommodate the change in our community,” LaJoye-Young said. “We’re trying to do it as quickly as possible.

“I don’t think any of us would say this is needless, but what we are saying is you have to accommodate for the administrative overhead that happens,” she added. “It takes us time to get up to speed on it and so we’re working at it.”