Gun permit applications and activity at firing ranges in the Twin Cities are soaring again in the aftermath of the nation’s latest high-profile mass shooting — the Dec. 2 killings of 14 people in San Bernardino, Calif.
Anoka County saw its new applications for permits to carry nearly double, from up to 20 a day to around 30 to 40, in the days after the California attack. Dakota County received roughly 26 new applications per day in the three days after the shooting, up from the 15 a day it averaged this year through November.
From Nov. 30 to Dec. 7, Hennepin County received 167 new applications, compared with 90 over the same period last year — including 70 new applications on the Monday after the shooting.
The activity follows a pattern seen after other high-profile shootings across the nation in recent years, one that’s been amplified this year by gun control’s prominent place in presidential election politics.
The clearest precedent for this year’s gun-buying surge is the reaction to the December 2012 shootings of 26 people — most of them children — at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut. FBI background checks for firearms purchases soared to a record 21 million in 2013. That record is likely to be broken this year, as the bureau already had processed nearly 20 million checks entering December — up 6 percent from a year ago.
In Minnesota, the number of residents with gun permits also has greatly expanded since Sandy Hook, jumping from 114,774 in January 2013 to 208,190 as of Oct. 31 this year, according to the Minnesota Association of Defensive Firearm Instructors.
Some are now bracing for a new statewide spike.
“I would bet that our folks that put on conceal-and-carry classes will be very busy over the next couple of months,” said Scott County Sheriff Kevin Studnicka. On Friday, Studnicka said he’s received 80 new applications to carry firearms in the week since the California attack.
A spike in buyers
Anoka County Sheriff’s Commander Paul Sommer said one applicant told him it’s been tough to find a permit-to-carry class with any openings.
“Whenever gun-control rhetoric makes news, particularly after mass shootings, we see increases in applications,” Sommer said.
The debate reached a fever pitch in 2012 after the Sandy Hook shootings. President Obama called for legislation, but an April 2013 bipartisan bill to expand background checks on firearms purchases failed to pass in the Senate.
Gun shop owners say Obama has been their best salesman. Jeff Monson, whose Bill’s Gun Shop & Range has five locations in the metro, North Dakota and Wisconsin, said the Sandy Hook aftermath fueled an unimaginable spike in business.
“It was crazy,” Monson said. “People were buying anything that wasn’t screwed to the wall. Customers were waiting in line for the UPS guy in the mornings.”
It was a terrible way to do business, Monson said, because the frenzy to buy guns and ammo “right out of the box” didn’t allow him to educate customers. Monson said his business doubled in less than 48 hours after this month’s California attack and has been steady since. Training classes and even weekday morning gun-range sessions have filled up, he said.
“I love anytime we get new shooters in the industry,” Monson said of first-time buyers. “It’s good for business. I don’t like the reason why some people are doing it, or what caused them to get in. But once they get in, we’re going to take care of them.”
Roger Hird, who co-owns the Burnsville Rifle and Pistol Range, says the heightened interest that follows such shootings is a result of people feeling insecure.
“The simple fact of the matter is most police officers will tell you when seconds count, they’re a minute away,” Hird said. “People are realizing they have to be responsible for their own safety.”
Heather Martens of Protect Minnesota, a nonprofit organization that advocates for gun safety, doesn’t buy the idea that being armed is an effective solution to being caught in a public shooting.
“That has never happened,” she said. “It’s a fantasy that’s being peddled to people that they can stop mass shootings and terror attacks if they just carry guns around.”
Before a husband and wife killed 14 people in San Bernardino, the FBI said they had taken target practice at area gun ranges. Monson said his staff is always on the lookout for safety concerns or prohibited firearms at the range. But whether the California shooters, who investigators have said acted in support of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, would have raised any red flags is unclear, Monson said.
“I don’t know how I would pick that out, how I would spot that,” he said. “We’re the last people that are going to profile anybody.”
In Hennepin County, Sheriff Rich Stanek began asking for data after the Nov. 27 shooting at a Colorado Planned Parenthood building.
The FBI said that day produced a single-day record of 185,345 firearm background checks processed — topping the previous high set one week after the Sandy Hook shooting.
Stanek said the rise in new applications has so far not produced a “wild, wild West” as some feared.
“You have to be responsible, 21, have a clean criminal history and no history of mental illness,” Stanek said of the requirements for a permit to carry. “[And] everybody who uses that weapon in self-defense will be reviewed by a county attorney and district attorney and a jury of their peers.”