The Ashe County Sheriff’s Office has seen a sharp increase in concealed carry permit applications in recent months, as local firearms dealers report brisk sales of guns and ammunition, bearing out new poll data which finds that North Carolinians favor expanded law-abiding gun ownership to deter violent crime.
As of Feb. 17, Ashe County had 1,112 current concealed carry permits — representing four percent of the population — up from 1,068 on Jan. 17, according to Prange. Concealed carry permits increased 53 percent from 2012 to 2013, versus 23 percent from 2011 to 2012.
Applications for handgun permits, which are required to purchase a handgun in N.C., increased 61.8 percent from 2012 to 2013, compared to 19 percent over the previous year, Prange said.
In the context of the national gun control debate following the December Sandy Hook shootings, Prange stands by her office’s oversight of the permitting process. “Not everybody is as strict as our county,” she said.
Permitting is multi-phased and involves the FBI, SBI and local mental health providers. “It takes a couple of weeks, sometimes three,” she said.
Every purchaser of a handgun in N.C. must first apply for a handgun permit, which requires a criminal background check.
“Most people think you can buy a handgun from another person (without a permit),” which is not true, she said, adding that even the recipient of a handgun given as a gift must apply.
Once a handgun permit is issued, concealed carry permit applicants are then checked against an SBI list of 26 disqualifying criminal offenses, recently amended to include cyberstalking. “They know not to come in if you’ve got an assault or communicating a threat,” said Prange.
Anyone convicted of an impaired driving offense within three years of the application date is automatically disqualified.
The process also entails a substantial cash investment, she said, which tends to deter noncommittal applicants.
A handgun permit costs $5. The non-refundable concealed carry permit fee is $80, plus a $10 charge for fingerprinting.
Another $25 must be paid to the Clerk of Court, and a $15 fee goes to Daymark Recovery Services and New River Mental Health to determine if the applicant has ever been involuntarily committed. In addition to $135 in administrative costs, the mandatory 8-hour training course with a certified firearms instructor will run $50-$125, Prange said.
Sheriff James Williams, who has administrative discretion in issuing concealed carry permits, is not concerned about armed citizens who have gone through the process.
“They’re not the ones I worry about,” Williams said. “They’ve passed muster; they’re good citizens, not criminals, not mentally ill.”
“Sandra is very thorough,” he said.
Prange said she turns down very few applicants — only one in the last two months — because those who won’t qualify are eliminated early in the process.
Permits must be renewed every five years, she said, with re-applicants repeating the whole process.
Handguns, ammo selling quickly
Phillip Grady, proprietor of Grady Precision Cartridge, said he is having difficulty keeping merchandise on his shelves.
Grady estimated his firearm sales were two to three times sales this time last year. “Handguns are extremely difficult to keep in stock,” he said, adding that several popular types of pistol ammunition, usually readily available, have also become scarce.
“My distributors are telling me that’s across the board at all levels,” he said.
“It really started heating up with the shootings,” he said. It’s a nationwide thing.”
Scott Gouge, of Lansing Pawn & Trading Company, had a display case full of handguns sell in a week. “I got fifteen-hundred rounds of .22 LR in the other day, and sold it in an hour,” he said.
Legally-owned or not, handguns accounted for 72 percent of all violent gun deaths in N.C. during years 2007-10, according to the N.C. Division of Public Health. The state averaged 1090 gun-related deaths per year during the same period, with about one percent being accidental.
A new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association indicates that states with more gun laws see fewer gun deaths. The study ranked all 50 states into groups according to the number of gun laws on the books, and found that states with the most gun laws had 42 percent fewer gun deaths than the states with the fewest laws.
N.C. favors more guns and more control
A February High Point University Poll found that 60 percent of North Carolinians say that more law-abiding people having guns would more effectively reduce violent crime than banning guns.
According to the poll, 91 percent supported requiring criminal background checks on all gun buyers, including those buying at gun shows and through private sales. Ninety percent supported providing services for mentally ill people who show violent tendencies.
Eighty-five percent supported more rigorous enforcement of existing gun laws. Majorities also supported banning high capacity magazines, assault-style weapons and online ammunition sales, the poll showed.
The survey was conducted by live interviewers calling a sample of 484 adults from all N.C. counties.
According to HPU Poll Director Dr. Martin Kifer,“The lessons in this data are clear: North Carolinians believe guns in the hands of law-abiding citizens can deter crime, but they are also willing to consider a number of different proposals to stop gun violence.”