By Joe Beck
The number of concealed handgun permits issued in Warren and Frederick counties over the last 12 years has skyrocketed, and both counties already have set records for the number of permits issued this year, according to statistics compiled by clerks of circuit court.
The reasons for the increases, especially apparent in the last several years, are unclear to those who keep track of the information. But the trend is consistent with recent reports of gun dealers flooding the FBI with requests for criminal background checks on prospective buyers during Black Friday.
The FBI does not track gun sales, but the background checks are required with purchases made from dealers.
The Warren County Clerk of Circuit Court has counted a record high 535 handgun permits through Oct. 31 this year, eclipsing the previous record of 523 for all of 2009. The longterm trend since 2000 shows permits in Warren County jumping from 79 in 2000 to 404 in 2011.
Frederick County showed similar long and short-term trends. The 1,130 permits issued in 2012 as of Nov. 26 surpassed the previous yearly record of 951 set in 2008, according to the clerk's records. The records also show the county issued 118 permits in 2000 compared to 732 in 2011.
A story in USA Today earlier this week reported 154,873 calls to the FBI on Black Friday, a 20 percent increase over the previous one-day record for criminal background checks in 2011.
The story, quoting gun dealers, suggested President Obama's reelection as a possible explanation, despite criticism Obama received from gun control groups for signing bills into law allowing guns in national parks and on Amtrak. Obama did mention in the second presidential debate he was interested in "seeing if we can get an assault weapons ban reintroduced" as part of a broader "conversation" about sources of violence.
Mike North, manager at Virginia Pistols in Linden, said his store has been doing a brisk business since the president's reelection.
"We have handgun safety classes every weekend, and we're booked through Dec. 23," North said.
The classes, which are part of the process of obtaining a concealed handgun permit, tell only part of the story, North said.
His store submitted the names of 135 customers to the Virginia State Police for criminal background checks, he said, "and some of them bought two or three different firearms."
North said the reasons for the increase might be a bit more complicated than a backlash against Obama. He said firearms sales tend to spike in election seasons, regardless of who wins and which candidates are running.
"Right at election time, they start buying guns because nobody knows which way it is going to go," North said.
He said he is also seeing greater numbers of women worried about personal safety in a turbulent society buying firearms for themselves.
Jennifer Sims, the Warren County Clerk of Circuit Courts, said she had heard "talk on the street" from people worried that the president would seek new restrictions on gun ownership, thereby leading more people to buy handguns and seek concealed firearm permits.
But the weeks following Obama's reelection showed fewer Warren County applications for permits this year than in 2011. The 2012 total from Nov. 7 to Nov 26 showed 12 applications compared to 17 recorded during the same period in 2011.
While there have been years when the number of permits issued have dropped in Warren and Frederick counties, the overall upward trend is unmistakable.
"It just seems like they're never-ending," Sims said. "Every time we send a stack up to the judge for approval, it seems like there's 15 or 20."
Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or firstname.lastname@example.org