By Joe Beck
Thousands of Americans have rushed to apply for permits to carry concealed handguns in the aftermath of the mass shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., and the Northern Shenandoah Valley is proving to be no exception to the trend.
Court and law enforcement officials in Frederick, Warren and Shenandoah counties all reported applications for concealed weapons permits between Dec. 14, the date of the Connecticut shooting, and Dec. 31, increased at nearly double or more than double the rate for the same period in 2011.
"We're a gun-toting community, aren't we?" said Jennifer Sims, Clerk of Circuit Court in Warren County as she pored over the data on Friday.
Sims said applications have continued to spill into her office at the same or greater rate since Jan. 1. The assistant clerks fielded 15 applications on Wednesday and 12 on Thursday alone, Sims said.
From Dec. 14 to Dec. 31, the office counted 36 concealed handgun permit applications. There were 19 applications during the same period in 2011.
The differences from last year were even more dramatic in Frederick and Shenandoah counties.
In Frederick County, 92 applications were received from Dec. 14 to 31, compared to 43 over the last two weeks of 2011. The late year increase was consistent with a yearlong trend in Frederick County where total permit applications climbed to 1,301 after reaching 732 in 2011.
Shenandoah County's permit applications between Dec. 14 and Dec. 31 climbed to 53, far surpassing the 24 that were recorded in 2011 during the same period.
A permit to carry a concealed handgun is not necessary to own one, and the FBI, which performs background checks on some gun purchasers, does not track gun sales.
Deputy Pat McNett who records gun permit applications for the Shenandoah County Sheriff's Office, and Becky Hogan, the Clerk of Circuit Court in Frederick County, said they had no explanations for the spike in gun permit applications since the Connecticut shootings.
Sims said the yearly totals in Warren County leaped from 404 in 2011 to 662 in 2012.
She said her clerks sometimes ask customers about their interest in obtaining a concealed handgun permit, and some mention a simple desire to have it if they need it.
She said worry about proposals for tightening gun ownership, sometimes cited as a reason for increased gun sales, might not entirely explain why so many people want to carry a concealed handgun.
"I don't know if it's that or people feel they really need to protect themselves," Simms said. "There's so much shooting out there, and there's no rhyme or reason to it."
Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or firstname.lastname@example.org