Reporting Heather Brown
MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – Since the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School, gun control has been a big part of the political conversation in the country.
A law to ban assault weapons could be introduced soon. And Minnesotans are worried about their future ability to get guns.
On Monday, Anoka County received 49 applications for permits to carry handguns – setting a new one-day record. That topped the previous record set on New Year’s Eve.
Two years ago, Teri Gessell’s husband had a stroke. Two months ago, she decided she’d feel safer with a handgun.
“Because he’s not really a protector anymore,” Gessell said.
So she applied – along with her brother-in-law and sister – for a state permit to carry. That means she’s able to take a handgun anywhere it’s allowed in the state.
“I just decided to do that just in case I wanted to bring it to my office with me, or I want to carry it somewhere. So I would be following all of the laws,” she said.
Gessell says right after President Obama’s reelection, she feared that gun laws would soon change.
“I’m wondering what they’re going to do with the gun laws, so if I could be grandfathered in, I wanted to do that. I don’t know how that’s going to work,” she said.
Any legislation expected to be proposed wouldn’t necessarily apply to Gessell’s gun. But it’s that uncertainty that had people showing up to their sheriff’s office’s service windows around the state. You have to apply for a permit to carry in person in Minnesota.
Cmdr. Paul Sommer of the Anoka County Sheriff’s Office says permit requests are piling up.
“What’s been significant since Sandy Hook is that we’ve had elevated numbers every day since then,” Sommer said.
Before New Year’s Eve, the record for gun permit applications in Anoka County was the Monday after the Newtown shootings. Before that it was the day after President Obama’s reelection. And before that, it was the day before President Obama’s first election.
In Anoka County, the work to process permits has doubled. The monthly average for the first 11 months of 2012 was 205. In December, it was 409.
“We’re pushing our staff at their limits to get these out on time,” said Sommer.
In Minnesota, only handguns are covered under the permit to carry. In most cases, carrying a loaded shotgun or rifle isn’t allowed, but you don’t need a permit to buy those.
However, buying a semi-automatic military style assault weapon does require a permit and a seven-day waiting period.
“Minnesota is one of the most restrictive states when it comes to gun permits,” he said.
By state law, sheriff’s departments have one month to process the permit to carry – requiring the following: a local records check, a state criminal history check, a court records check for restraining orders, domestic violence, felony convictions, and a check to see if a person has been civilly committed.
Then, in Anoka County, two retired deputies thoroughly investigate the data.
“I can’t say it’s a fool-proof system, but it’s highly unlikely you’re going to sneak one by,” Sommer said.
By law, the permit-to-carry holder also has responsibilities, like taking a class that requires some live fire. Larry Yatch, CEO of Sealed Mindset, has seen his firearm sales and class numbers rise.
“The people that you might think are sketchy people or that would cause you to have question – we have seen no increase in that. So it really is your average, every day citizen that is becoming more aware of the need to educate themselves,” Yatch said.
At the Sealed Mindset studio, men still outnumber women, but the gap is closing.
And in the piles of files waiting to be checked out, the Anoka County coordinators see a male-female ratio of about 70-30.
But what they don’t see is any slowdown in their office, at least in the near future.
“If the increase continues, I don’t know that we’re going to have option but to add more people to process the volume of permits we’re getting. But at this point, we’re keeping our head above water,” said Sommer.
At a press conference Thursday morning, the president said he plans to give the public a “fuller presentation” about any gun control measures. He says he’s not sure if he’ll push for an assault weapons ban.