Minnesota’s largest counties are getting record numbers of requests to carry handguns.
Hennepin and Ramsey counties already have exceeded what they had brought in by this time last year — even what they’d expected to bring in for all of 2013, officials said this week. Anoka County could potentially double the amount it took in last year. Dakota County, in the south metro, and St. Louis County, in northern Minnesota, are also well on pace to surpass last year’s total.
“These numbers reflect the unprecedented surge in permit demand since the Sandy Hook [school shooting] incident and are reflective of the panic buying that took place at the time,” said Anoka County Sheriff’s Commander Paul Sommer. “The numbers are slowing down, but we are still seeing about double the number of requests each month that we saw in 2012.”
As of last week, Hennepin County had raked in $427,000 from permit applications so far this year. That’s already well beyond the $355,000 the county had expected in permit revenue for all of 2013. And this year’s revenues are well on track to surpass the $537,615 raised in 2012 and the $334,325 in 2011.
It’s unclear whether that increased volume will continue and produce record receipts, however. May’s collections dipped from the $90,000 average over the first four months to just $71,000, said county Budget Director Dave Lawless. “We don’t really have a good sense of where the trend is going,” he added.
Revenue not a windfall
Ramsey County revenues already have exceeded the annual projection of $120,000, according to sheriff’s spokesman Randy Gustafson.
So far Ramsey County has brought in about $196,000 in permit fees, compared to last year’s total of $188,665, which itself was an increase over the $125,950 collected in 2011, Gustafson said.
But higher revenues do not constitute a windfall. State law does not allow money raised from permit applications to be used for anything but related administrative costs, such as background checks.
The Connecticut school massacre and the subsequent push for more gun restrictions — which got nowhere in Congress — spurred the surge in gun sales and permit requests, officials say. In addition, cultural acceptance of gun ownership appears to be gaining, some said.
“To some degree, going through the [gun] training has been almost a family or social event,” said Dakota County Sheriff Dave Bellows. “A number of people will get the permit to carry, but they have no interest in carrying. It’s an interesting landscape.”
In Anoka County, revenue so far this year is $210,645, almost as much as last year’s $232,295, Sommer said. He noted that 18 months ago, Anoka County dropped its fee from $100 to $75 for first-time buyers.
In Dakota and St. Louis counties, the numbers also are trending up.
Bellows said Dakota County’s estimated permit revenue for the year was $150,000, but the actual revenue so far is $246,500.
“We issued about 2,550 permits to carry for all of last year. I think we’re going to exceed that number by the end of this month. Everyone is experiencing very high volume,” he said.
St. Louis County, which reported $163,625 in permit sales last year, already has brought in $158,360 in 2013, according to Undersheriff Dave Phillips.
Fear, fun are motives
State law sets the gun application fee ceiling at $100 for the first one and $75 for renewals. Hennepin and Ramsey counties charge that amount; Anoka County charges slightly less.
John Monson, owner of Bill’s Gun Shop and Range stores in Robbinsdale, Circle Pines and Hudson, Wis., said that since the “frenzy” started in December, demand has only recently begun to ebb for guns, ammunition and the classes required to obtain a license to carry a handgun. “The reality is, people get scared,” he said. “They think, in case of disaster, how do I defend my family?”
After a tragedy, Monson said he sees gun attitudes go in three directions: those who want more or looser restrictions and those in the middle who say, “I need to get mine.”
Monson said basic training, which is required to get a permit, is the most popular class at his shops. He also reported a near “astronomical” surge in sales. First he couldn’t keep up with the demand for guns, then he couldn’t keep up with the demand for ammunition. Traffic on his shooting ranges also was heavy, Monson said.
Partly because of popular gun-centered cable reality-style television shows, he’s seen gun ownership become “a little bit more socially acceptable,” Monson said.
“People see ‘Duck Dynasty.’ It’s about rednecks going to hunt and it’s popular as hell,” he said. The newcomers who “come in and try it, they get on the range and it’s like, ‘Damn, this is fun.’ ”
Even those who want tighter gun restrictions found good news in the numbers. “It shows that people are totally willing to go through a background check and it supports our effort to make sure people get background checks,” said Heather Martens, executive director of Protect Minnesota, which aims to end gun violence.
She stressed, however, that her group does not believe guns make people safer.
Rochelle Olson • 612-673-1747 @rochelleolson