Permit to carry classes at the Stock & Barrel Gun Club’s Chanhassen and Eagan outlets have been filling up in recent months. They’ve been packed at Bill’s Gun Shop in Robbinsdale, too.

That’s not a surprise as more and more Minnesotans are taking gun safety classes, a prerequisite for getting permission to carry a handgun in public.

Last year sheriff’s offices across the state issued more than 66,000 permits to those wanting to carry a gun, the second-highest total in the past five years. As of Friday, the state had more than 290,500 permit holders, a high-water mark, according to a report released Friday by the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension.

“It does not have the evil stigma as it once did,” said John Monson, who runs Bill’s Gun Shop with locations in Robbinsdale, Circle Pines and Hudson, Wis., in the metro area. “It’s a bit more widely acceptable.”

Minnesota enacted the Personal Protection Act in 2003, allowing residents 21 and older to carry in public if they have completed authorized firearms training and are not prohibited by state law from possessing a handgun.

Roughly 40,000 permits issued last year went to first-time applicants. Another 25,600 were permit holders who were renewing. Both totals were a marked increase from 2014, when sheriff’s offices issued 41,493 permits.

A permit is good for five years.

Hennepin County issued the most permits in the state with 7,804, followed by the metro counties of Anoka, Dakota, Ramsey and Washington.

That does not mean more people are actually carrying weapons, Monson said. A lot of people are getting the permit and carry only in certain situations, such as when they are at the cabin or working a night job.

Mike Reilly, executive general manager at Stock & Barrel, said that a decade ago getting the permit and carrying a weapon were the primary things driving people to his Chanhassen store to take classes. Now he says people are coming not only to be permit eligible but to fully understand the law and the mechanics of carrying a firearm.

“People feared it was going to become the Wild Wild West,” he said. “Now they come in to get educated on how to read their environment and get away. Carrying a gun cannot be the only prescription for mitigating risk.”

Only 519 permits were denied last year, according to the BCA’s 2018 Permit to Carry Report.

That is troubling for Nancy Nord Bence, executive director of Protect Minnesota, a nonprofit gun control group.

“I’m concerned the bar is too low for proving you have taken gun safety training,” she said. “I’m relieved that we have laws but wish we had more direction whom to give permits to.”

The BCA’s report comes as two hot-button measures about gun control make their way through the Legislature. One would broaden criminal background checks to include gun sales between private individuals. A second would allow relatives or law enforcement to petition a judge to take away firearms from those deemed an imminent danger to themselves or others.

Both bills passed committees this week but still face opposition.

The report found that people holding permits were involved in 1,828 crimes, but most of those were drunken driving or other traffic offenses.