Mara H. Gottfried and Joseph Lindberg, St. Paul Pioneer Press, Published February 28 2014
Number of Minnesota handgun permits issued almost doubles in 2013
As of Friday, more than 165,000 people had valid permits to carry guns in Minnesota, according to the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension.
Andrew Rothman, Gun Owners Civil Rights Alliance president, estimates about 4 percent of adults eligible in Minnesota to obtain carry permits have them now.
“Mostly, you’d never know it,” he said. “Most carry permit holders don’t advertise the fact that they have a permit. For some people, it’s to avoid the irrational fear that some have of guns. Some are concerned about employment discrimination, and many simply consider it a private issue.
“But in the last 10 years, as we’ve gone from about 12,000 carry permits to over 165,000, more and more people are talking more openly about their exercise of their Second Amendment rights,” Rothman said.
There were 62,950 permits to carry applied for and 60,471 issued last year – which means about 96 percent of applications were approved by sheriffs’ offices statewide, the data from the BCA showed.
Permits to carry must be renewed every five years. They were first eligible for renewal in 2008 and again in 2013. Last year, about 20 percent of permit applications were renewals.
Factors affecting increase
Hennepin County led the way with the most permits issued last year, followed by Anoka, Dakota, Ramsey and Washington counties, the BCA said.
Dakota County Sheriff Dave Bellows attributes last year’s increase to a combination of factors, including the November 2012 presidential election. It is not unusual to see a bump in applications in the months leading up to and after a presidential election, he said.
“We noticed that there was spike back in 2008-09, and we saw the same spike this time to a much greater extent,” he said. “I think that was part of it. And I’m not trying to be political about this, but it seems like with the election and re-election of the president, there seems to have been a response to that.”
Rothman believes the sharp increase in 2013 was caused by two things – the December 2012 shooting in Newtown, Conn., that killed 20 first-graders and six adults, and the calls that followed for tighter restrictions on guns in Minnesota and across the nation.
During last year’s legislative session in Minnesota, gun-rights advocates fought off measures to tighten gun laws, including bans on assault-style weapons and high-capacity magazines as well as expansion of background checks.
Lawmakers filled in holes in Minnesota’s criminal background check system by speeding transfers of certain records in the database used to determine whether a person can own a gun.
Are we safer?
Karl Seidel of St. Paul got his permit to carry for the first time last year. He’d done target shooting on private property or a gun range in the past, which doesn’t require a permit to carry.
Last year, Seidel said, “there seemed to be a lot more action going on (at the Legislature) to curtail certain aspects of our gun-ownership rights” and said he was spurred to apply for a carry permit. He hasn’t started carrying a gun, but said it was important to exercise his right to get a permit so he can carry a gun if he chooses.
The Sandy Hook Elementary School murders in 2012 influenced people’s interest in arming themselves for self-defense, Rothman said.
“It made them realize that to a large extent, in the moment, you’re on your own,” he said. “Police officers almost always arrive only in time to draw the chalk lines.”
Heather Martens, executive director of Protect Minnesota, a gun-violence prevention organization, said studies have shown that having a gun in a home “raises the risk, especially in situations of domestic violence, that someone is going to be killed.”
A recent survey conducted by the University of Minnesota Center for Survey Research found 43.5 percent of Minnesota households surveyed reported having a firearm in the home, compared with 48 percent in 2008, Martens said.
“What I see happening is the firearms industry has a challenge,” she said. “Overall, fewer people own guns, hunting is on the decline. They have a problem. In order to continue to profit, they have to market their product in a different way. They market handguns as a way to be safe … The cost of that is that people are bringing a gun into the home or taking these classes, believing that a gun will make them safe.”
People who want a permit to carry a gun apply at their local sheriff’s office and must provide proof of approved firearms training. Their applications are checked for disqualifying information in FBI, BCA and Minnesota Department of Human Services records databases, in addition to the sheriff’s records.
The BCA’s annual report showed 28 permits were suspended, 11 were revoked and 18 voided.
Permit holders committed slightly more than 1,000 crimes in 2013. More than half were DWIs or other traffic offenses, the BCA said.
The BCA report said 42 permit holders were convicted of domestic assault in 2013, a number that Martens said concerns her. She said it’s “reflective of an ongoing concern we have about … the fact that the screening is not good enough.”
Five of the domestic assault cases did not involve a gun; the other 37 were listed as not reported/unknown.
“Whether or not the gun was used in these crimes is irrelevant because people who are likely to commit those types of crimes should not be getting a permit in the first place,” Martens said. “We just know that the presence of a gun increases the risk of domestic violence turning lethal.”
The Pioneer Press is a media partner with Forum News Service.