Hennepin County, responding to need, has opened its first office dedicated solely to issuing permits to people seeking to legally carry a firearm.

The sheriff in the state’s most populous county on Tuesday pointed to the growing demand and his duty to better ensure residents’ rights for the opening this week of the new application office in Brooklyn Park.

“As sheriff of Hennepin County, it is my job to support and respect constitutional rights and Minnesota state law,” Rich Stanek said.

A spokesman for the Sheriff’s Office and the Minnesota Sheriffs’ Association both said they are unaware of any other counties in the state having taken the same step in expanding the process for accepting applications.

Permit applications were up 16 percent in Hennepin County last year, to 6,421. Statewide for the six-month period ending Jan. 31, the number of permit holders grew by more than 20,000 to above 221,000 and now stands at a record 230,835, according to the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. Hennepin County reported a surge in applications in January, handling 733.

The office is already getting customers. By midday Wednesday, at least 15 people had submitted applications for new permits or renewals.

Stewart Thompson, who lives in the north metro, praised the extended hours, saying it’s more convenient for him.

“I used to have to go drive all the way downtown, try to find parking, then pay for parking,” Thompson said. “Now I’m in and out in five minutes.”

Phillip Murphy owns a flower shop in north Minneapolis, where reports of gunfire have been on the rise for many months. He got his permit many years ago after his business was robbed and now hosts state-required firearms training instruction in his shop. Murphy is pleased that the county is opening the new application locale.

Given the “propensity of our young people to use firearms in the commissions of crime,” Murphy said, “the handgun is the only equalizer a citizen has against this. … This is why we are seeing this surge” in applications.

Until now, the only places for Hennepin County residents to apply for or renew a permit to carry a gun were in City Hall in downtown Minneapolis on weekdays, once a month at the Sheriff’s Water Patrol in Spring Park and at the Richfield Police Department.

The new Brooklyn Park location, at the Sheriff’s Office Enforcement Services Division Headquarters at 9401 83rd Av. N., previously had also been accepting applications once a month.

Applications are only accepted in person and not through the mail or online.

Along with submitting an application, would-be permit to carry holders must take an authorized firearm training course within one year before applying and submit documentation of completion, and have a valid driver’s license or other state identification, or a passport (along with proof of residency if applying with a passport).

For more information on office hours for permit to carry services and other details, visit http://www.hennepinsheriff.org/permit-carry-handgun.