Demand for concealed carry permits grows in NC

Since 1995, when the state gave the public the right to carry concealed handguns, half-million people exercised that right

By Joe Gamm
News & Record

GREENSBORO, N.C. — Look around North Carolina. If you’re with a group of 20 or more people, chances are one of them is carrying a handgun.

Since 1995, when the state gave the general public the right to carry concealed handguns, a half-million people exercised that right.

Much of this surge is among women, who make up 8 percent, or 36,667, of permit holders.

Why people want to carry concealed handguns varies, according to the State Bureau of Investigation. But for most women, carrying a handgun is a matter of personal safety.

“My best friend was killed,” said Lisa Herbin of Stokesdale. “It was in Winston-Salem. Police couldn’t protect her — it cost her her life.”

Herbin, who wouldn’t name her friend, said she would get her permit this year.

“That was the moment it was time to do something,” she said.

She has completed the application and a required class necessary to obtain a permit but has yet to receive that document from the Guilford County Sheriff’s Office.

Herbin represents a growing class of permit holders in North Carolina.

About 22 times more people in the state have obtained a permit to carry a concealed handgun than held permits 20 years ago, and about 5 percent of the state’s nearly 10 million residents have permits to carry concealed handguns.

In 1996, the year after the state first allowed residents to obtain concealed carry permits, just 21,821 people in the state had permits to carry concealed handguns. By the end of 2015, 478,334 had claimed the permits, an increase of about 2,200 percent.

All of this has emerged during an ever-growing debate, mostly along political lines, about gun control and rights guaranteed by the Second Amendment, a debate that emerged years before North Carolina began issuing the permits.

A call for gun control gained national momentum on March 30, 1981, when John Hinckley, a Texas Tech University student, shot President Ronald Reagan, White House press secretary James Brady and two other men. The shooting left Brady partially paralyzed.

In 1989, 24-year-old drifter Patrick Edward Purdy opened fire with a Chinese-made assault rifle at an elementary school playground in Stockton, Calif. Purdy fired more than 100 rounds in less than three minutes, killing five children and injuring 30 more.

In 1993, Congress passed the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, requiring federal background checks on gun buyers and imposing a waiting period on purchases. Then in 1994 lawmakers passed a ban on assault weapons, but that law expired in 2004.

Four years later, Barack Obama, a Democrat, was close to occupying the White House and applications for concealed handgun permits swelled.

In 2007, North Carolina had 100,052 permit holders. By the end of 2008, that rose to 129,333 applications. By the end of 2009, the number of residents requesting a concealed handgun permit reached 177,788 — a surge of about 37 percent.

By Obama’s re-election in 2012, the number had nearly tripled to 302,637, and then grew another 28 percent, to 387,590 by 2013.

The national tenor in the debate about the right to own guns, which ones are legal and the details of the process of obtaining a permit, has continued to escalate, driven by events such as school shootings in Columbine, Colo., and Sandy Hook, Conn., a theater shooting in Aurora, Colo., and many other mass deaths. The National Rifle Association, the most powerful pro-gun organization, spends millions of dollars to lobby Congress.

But Congress has ignored demands by Obama that gun laws be tighter. In fact, many states, including North Carolina, have continued to be more permissive about owning and carrying weapons.

Just last week, when Obama announced an executive order to tighten some loopholes in the permitting process, there was such a spike in the demand for permits that the Guilford County Sheriff’s Office added more staff to process those requests.

The Brady Bill set the national requirement for background checks to own a gun, but states control all regulations for concealed carry permits.

In North Carolina, people wishing to carry concealed handguns are required to take an eight-hour class, including instruction in the use of a handgun; obtain fingerprint checks and mental health background checks; and pay fees that vary county by county. Applications are processed by sheriff’s offices.

In Guilford County, the fee for a five-year permit is $90 — $10 for fingerprints, $35 for the state and $45 for the county — for a first-time application. Renewals are $75 because the fingerprints are already in the system, and the county charges $5 less. Permit holders don’t have to retake the class if they don’t let their permits expire.

And every month, hundreds of people in Guilford County apply for permits, sheriff’s Capt. Tony Caliendo said.

“Every fifth year, you don’t only have the 1,500 new people who apply,” he said. “It’s constantly compounding.”

There are now six staff members in the department’s records section of the sheriff’s office who are dedicated to handgun permit purchases and background checks.

“It’s created more work for us,” Caliendo said. “But we feel like it is one of the more important duties we do.”

Applications can be filled out online or at a kiosk at the sheriff’s Greensboro location.

Each person who applies for a new permit must be fingerprinted, and the sheriff’s office sets aside about 50 appointments per week to take those fingerprints.

Although the process to obtain concealed-handgun permits has been streamlined by technology, it can take weeks for a sheriff’s office to obtain required information about an applicant’s mental health, Caliendo said.

Sheriff’s offices are required to complete background checks of applicants, including checking to see if they’ve been determined by law to be mentally ill, which would prohibit them from receiving a permit.

“Guilford County — being a large county — for someone seeking (mental health) treatment, there are so many venues they can go to,” Caliendo said. “In Guilford, we’ve got to send the checks to a handful of these hospitals.”

Who carries concealed handguns is not considered a public record. Guilford County won’t release demographic information such as age, race or gender of applicants, but the SBI provided data to explain trends.

Chris Alexander, a magistrate in Guilford County and a trainer who helps applicants meet their class requirements, said he is seeing larger class sizes to meet the demand. Operating out of his home in Franklinville for the past 21/2 years, Alexander typically teaches 10-12 people a month.

And he said he has noticed a change in the demographics of those classes.

“Almost half my classes are female sometimes,” he said. “We average 40 percent female.”

As of November, there were 16,824 permit holders in Guilford County. About 1 in 4, or 4,274, were female. White men accounted for about 65 percent, or 10,916, and just more than 8 percent, or about 1,400, were black men, the SBI’s data show.

In Rockingham County, there were 5,265 permit holders, about 28 percent of whom were women. White men made up 70 percent of the group and black men about 2 percent.

Men and women get the permits for different reasons, Alexander said.

More men are aware of their Second Amendment right to have a firearm and want to exercise it. Men also obtain the permits because they want to protect themselves and their families, and some just do so because they like to collect firearms.

But he said women are basically motivated more.“The vast majority of them don’t think about exercising their rights,” he said. “It’s more protection.”

About a dozen people recently attended an eight-hour class at Alexander’s house.

People who receive permits are required to carry them when they have a concealed handgun, Alexander told his students. Anyone found to be carrying a concealed handgun without a permit may face misdemeanor charges, including a fine and loss of the permit.

Alexander’s training includes class time to prepare students to take a written exam — which he administers but is not required by the state — and instruction on firearms use. North Carolina statutes require that the applicants complete courses that include the actual use of guns.

Alexander explained to students where they are permitted to carry handguns under state law and changes to laws that affect those who have permits.

One such change passed by the General Assembly in 2013 allows college students to possess handguns in their rooms on public campuses, although they are not allowed to carry a concealed handgun on campus. In that situation, a student can drive onto the campus and carry a gun directly to his or her room and secure it there.

Alexander also taught students what state laws say about lethal force; when it is considered justified; and how difficult it is to determine if lethal force is necessary.

“It’s not a natural instinct to kill other people,” he told students. “We are taught not to kill a human being.”

Alexander teaches his students to be alert, wary and prepared to use their gun if necessary.

If threatened, be prepared to pull the handgun, he said.

Laura Eckenrod of Greensboro said that even though she was familiar with handguns, working with an instructor made her feel more comfortable.

“I feel more prepared after taking the class because of the time he took with us actually shooting — showing us how to stand, showing us how to shoot,” she said of Alexander.

Police say the increase in the number of concealed-handgun permits has little effect on their jobs.

For instance, when an officer pulls over a vehicle during a traffic stop, in-car computers will tell the officer if the car owner has a permit.

Alexander teaches his students to put the handgun where the officer can see it, make the permit available and tell the officer immediately if there is a gun in the vehicle.

Each state and the District of Columbia has a concealed-handgun law, according to a 2015 report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office. Many states recognize the permits for other states.

In late December, after conducting an audit of 30 states whose concealed-handgun permits it honored, Virginia banned 25 of those states’ gun holders from carrying there. The ban includes North Carolina.

But rules vary greatly among states.

South Dakota’s fee for a four-year permit is $10, with no training required.

In April, the Kansas Legislature passed and Gov. Sam Brownback signed into law legislation that lets anyone in Kansas who is 21 or older carry a concealed firearm without a permit and without training.

Permits can cost as much as $300 in Illinois, where the fee is $150 and the state requires 16 hours of training, depending on how much instructors charge for their classes.

North Carolina’s 5 percent rate of permit holders ranks 26th nationally.

At 12.64 percent, Texas has the highest percentage.

“People who have concealed carry permits, they know the laws they are to abide by,” Capt. Nathaniel Davis III of the Greensboro Police Department said. “They know the paperwork they need to carry with them.”

Herbin said she understands why the demand for permits is growing

“Things have changed a lot,” she said. “I never considered carrying before, but now I am.

“It’s not to hurt somebody, but to keep somebody from hurting you.”

Copyright 2016 the News & Record 

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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