The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) reported that 73,880 permits to carry a handgun were issued by county sheriffs in 2016 — the highest number of permits in a single year since the Minnesota Legislature implemented firearm permit laws in 2003. In comparison, 44,696 permits were issued in 2015.
The Washington County Sheriff’s Office issued the fourth-highest number of permits compared to all other counties in the state. According to the BCA report, the county issued 4,355 permits in 2016.
“It is the highest we have seen,” Washington County Sheriff Bill Hutton said.
The increase in permit applications is due, in part, to conversations by politicians about gun rights and the Second Amendment at all levels of the government, Hutton said.
“What we find is that when politicians talk about the Second Amendment — doesn’t matter if it is in favor or opposed — if either party is talking about guns, we will see our numbers increase within a few weeks,” Hutton said. “Residents will take the class and will come in with an application.”
Because 2016 was a significant election year, Hutton said political conversations sparked an increased interest in applications for a permit to carry a handgun.
Events that involve firearms and receive media coverage also cause permit applications to rise, according to Hutton.
“If there is a significant event, like a school shooting or a theater shooting, in regards to a gun, we will also see an increase in the number of permit applications,” he said.
In 2016 there were several instances of violence with a firearm, including the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history when 50 people were killed at a nightclub in Orlando, Fla., and the deadliest incident for U.S. law enforcement since Sept. 11, 2001, when five police officers were killed in Dallas, Texas.
A similar increase in permits was seen in Minnesota in 2013 following significant acts of violence that received media attention. On Dec. 14, 2012, 27 people were killed in a school shooting in Sandy Hook Elementary School. On April 15, 2013, three were killed and 260 were injured during the Boston Marathon bombing.
As permit applications have increased and more residents carry handguns, Hutton said the sheriffs in Minnesota have partnered with the BCA to develop a program that makes background checks more efficient and have provided dedicated funds to the BCA in order to meet the administrative needs when increases take place.
“We have a pretty good system in place to handle increases,” Hutton said.
The law requires that a sheriff’s office make a determination on issuing a permit to carry a handgun within 30 days of the application submission.
“In Washington County, our average time to issue a permit is about a week and sometimes less than that,” Hutton said.
In addition to completing a background check for those applying for an application for the first time, the sheriff’s office also does an annual check on all permit holders. Permits are renewed every five years, so Hutton said the sheriff’s office has five years of permit records to check.
There are now more than 17,000 permits to carry a handgun issued to residents in Washington County.
However, the vast majority of residents who do have a permit to carry a handgun are law abiding.
“Last year, 23 permits were denied and 43 permits were voided,” Hutton said. “Just like the general public, the overwhelming vast majority of the public are law abiding. This number is reflective of our overall community.”
Contact Alicia Lebens at [email protected]