Permits to carry handguns shot past record last year: BCA says county and state issued more than ever

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Permits to carry handguns skyrocketed in Washington County and statewide last year according to an annual report recently released by the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension.

Since the state Legislature passed the Personal Protection Act in 2003, there have never been more permits issued in a year. Statewide, sheriff’s offices reported 62,950 applications for permits. They issued 60,471 permits, nearly twice the number issued in 2012. As of Feb. 28, there were 165,295 valid permits in Minnesota.

The number of applications for permits in Washington County has tripled since 2010. According to the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, the county received 3,506 applications and issued 3,319 permits. The county sheriff’s office says less than a quarter of those applications were for permit renewals. The total number of valid permits in the county at the end of 2013 was 9,392.

For Washington County Sheriff Bill Hutton, a major factor in the spike in applications was all the attention given to guns and gun laws in the wake of the Newtown, Conn., school shooting.

“Immediately after the Newtown, Conn., unfortunate incident, we saw a dramatic increase, and we can see that in our data,” he said.

That’s typical anytime current events bring gun laws into the public eye.

“When there is any media coverage and/or discussion … you can see outside our lobby we get more visitors,” Hutton said. “Within a few days or a week, or a couple weeks of when those discussions begin (is) when we see more folks come in for their permit to carry.”

Applications for permits to carry handguns in Washington County have more than tripled since 2010. (Graph courtesy of Washington County Sheriff's Office with 2013 number updated to match final BCA report)

Applications for permits to carry handguns in Washington County have more than tripled since 2010. (Graph courtesy of Washington County Sheriff’s Office with 2013 number updated to match final BCA report)

Despite the rise in permits issued, Washington County didn’t revoke any permits last year, according to the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension’s report. The county denied permits to three applicants. Grounds for denial are defined in state statute and include reasons such as being convicted of a crime of violence, being ruled a danger to oneself or others and having a court order restraining the applicant from stalking an intimate partner.

Statewide, agencies revoked 11 permits, suspended 28, voided 18 and denied 540 applications.

Washington County was one of the top five agencies in terms of the number of permits issued. But that likely has most to do with the county’s population.

“The past couple of years we’ve taken a look at which counties have issued the most permits,” said Jill Oliveira with the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. “The agencies that are the top issuing agencies have been consistent, and they have been the counties with the greatest population.”

Hennepin County issued the most permits (7,982) last year, followed by Anoka, Dakota, Ramsey and then Washington County.

The number of reported crimes by gun permit holders in Minnesota did rise significantly, according to the bureau’s report, which identified 1,023 such crimes last year. Of those offenses, the permit holders were reported to have used a pistol in 44. More than half the crimes reported were DWIs or other traffic-related incidents.

The Bureau of Criminal Apprehension said the following factors likely contributed to the rise in crimes reported:

• There were more permit holders in 2013 than there had been previous years. The total number of active permits in Minnesota is up by 32 percent over the same time last year.

• The initial group of permits issued under the law were first eligible for renewal in 2008 and again in 2013. 12,469 permit applications, or 20 percent of the applications made in 2013, were for renewals.

• Not all police departments had been submitting data on crimes and justifiable use of firearms by permit holders as required by Minnesota law. In 2013 the bureau communicated with local agencies to remind them of their responsibility to provide this data.

• Law enforcement agencies switched to electronic-based reporting, which may have led to more complete reporting.

“We think that the number is getting more accurate,” Oliveira said.

Hutton said that although it’s concerning when anyone violates the law, it’s not surprising that the number of permit holders committing crimes would go up.

“The reality is … that’s going to go up, because our numbers (of permit holders has) tripled in the last three years.”

Hutton didn’t offer a perspective on whether the rise in the number of permits to carry was a positive or negative development. But he said individuals give a variety of reasons for acquiring the permits.

Some do it for personal protection, he said, while others do it because they feel it’s their constitutional right. Permit holders also vary widely as to when and where they carry.

“Some folks carry every day, everywhere, every place that they can,” Hutton said. “And then others tell me, ‘That was my right, but I choose not to carry.”

Contact Jonathan Young at jonathan.young@ecm-inc.com

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