Fearing tougher laws, Twin Cities buyers seek permits to carry guns

  • Article by: PAUL LEVY , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 18, 2012 - 11:38 PM

Applications set records in wake of Connecticut tragedy.

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Demand for permits to carry guns is surging across the Twin Cities and nationwide as potential buyers worry that the Connecticut school massacre will inspire tough new gun-control laws.

Anoka County set a one-day record for gun-permit applications Monday while Hennepin County more than doubled its average number of applications Tuesday. Dakota County had 30 applications Monday for conceal-carry or gun-purchase permits, a number Sheriff Dave Bellows called "extraordinarily high."

Anoka County Sheriff's Commander Paul Sommer said the county accepted 36 permit-to-carry applications Monday, followed by another 32 on Tuesday --both of which surpassed the old record of 31. "Every time there's media chatter about gun control, we see an upsurge in applications."

Within an hour Tuesday afternoon -- just four days after 20 first-graders and six adults were shot in Newtown, Conn. -- eight applicants lined up at the Anoka County Sheriff's Office for permits to carry a gun. The lone county resident who agreed to a brief interview said news like this past weekend's "makes people want to buy" guns. He said he wanted the security of a permit that lasts five years, allowing him to purchase a gun any time during that span. Like his fellow applicants, he asked that his name not be used.

Jim Rauscher, owner of Joe's Sporting Goods in Little Canada, said gun sales have been strong all year but in the past couple of days, callers have been asking, "What do you have on hand? What do you have in stock?"

Not every local county has seen a surge in gun-permit requests this week. In Ramsey County, only 15 applications were received on Monday -- one fewer than the 16 received the Monday before the Connecticut shootings.

But in Hennepin County, 61 applicants on Tuesday sought permits to carry guns, after 43 applications Monday -- far above the county's daily average of 20 to 30.

"I think there is probably a nexus to the shootings in Newtown," Dakota County Sheriff Bellows said.

The perceived ease with which applicants are granted gun permits has sparked debate nationwide. In Colorado, certification for the permit can be as simple as watching an online video over a lunch hour and taking a free test. In Wyoming, residents do not need a permit or a background check to carry a concealed firearm, said Troy McLees, Wyoming Highway Patrol spokesman. In Arizona, Department of Public Safety officials said a U.S. resident over the age of 18 who is not a felon may carry a concealed weapon.

In Michigan, Gov. Rick Snyder Tuesday vetoed a bill that would have allowed concealed guns in public schools. The 54-year-old Republican killed the measure, approved by the Legislature less than 24 hours before the Newtown massacre, primarily because it didn't allow day-care centers, hospitals and other public entities to opt out, according to a letter sent to the Michigan Senate.

Minnesota law allows counties up to 30 days to review gun-permit applications, Sommer said. That process includes background checks by the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, local police and county human-services agencies.

The background-check process does not include an intensive inquiry into the applicant's mental health, Bellows said.

Only about 1 percent of applications are rejected, while statistics show that 20 percent to 25 percent of the population has some form of mental illness, and 6 percent to 10 percent have more severe forms, he said.

The broader question, he said, is whether authorities should have more access to mental-health records of applicants. Right now, the form only asks applicants to disclose whether they have been court-ordered to undergo a psychological or chemical-dependency evaluation. A private or voluntary hospitalization for mental-health or chemical-dependency issues is protected under data-privacy laws and does not have to be disclosed. Nor can authorities access those records.

"Just looking at the sheer number of applications that come in is only telling a small portion of the story," Bellows said. "If we're truly serious about wanting to keep guns out of the people's hands that shouldn't have them, there's a bigger question here."

The applicants seeking gun permits seem to be ignoring the obvious -- that guns raise the risk of danger to families, said Heather Martens, executive director of Protect Minnesota: Working to End Violence, an activist group.

"A gun in the home is 22 times more likely to be used against a family member in a household than in a justifiable shooting," Martens said. "Being told that guns are needed as a safety measure is part of the story that sells them. Thinking that guns can stop a mass shooting is fantasy."

Surprisingly, the number of requests for background checks received in Minnesota by the BCA have actually declined since Friday's Newtown massacre. Between Friday and 1 p.m. Tuesday, the BCA had 2,012 requests for background checks, relating to persons applying for permits to purchase or carry guns. But between Dec. 9 and Dec. 13, there were 3,083 applicants. During the previous five-day period, ending Dec. 8, there were 3,460 applicants, the BCA said.

Anoka County's Sommer thinks the most recent numbers are misleading.

"Our clerks have been so busy with applications they haven't been able to process any background stuff," said Sommer. "That will, hopefully, come later this week."

Staff Writers Pat Pheifer, Abby Simons and Chao Xiong contributed to this article.

Paul Levy • 612-673-4419

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