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Demand up for concealed handguns

Judge: Applications increased 50 percent in 2008

POSTED: November 30, 2008 5:00 a.m.

Hall County Probate Court Chief Clerk Lisa F. Millwood says she cannot explain the increase of handgun permit applications the court has processed in recent months.

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Hall County Probate Court Judge Patti Cornett remembers when the permit to carry a concealed handgun in Georgia was called a "pistol toting license."

That was in the 1960s, when there were fewer handgun owners, and fewer people, in Hall County.

Today, at least 5,000 of Hall County’s 173,000-plus residents are permitted by law to carry a concealed, holstered gun, and the number applying for new permits daily has approached overwhelming levels in Cornett’s office. Applications for Georgia firearms licenses are up 50 percent in Hall County this year over last.

"We had as many in the first six months as we did all of the previous year," Cornett said.

The judge’s chief clerk, Lisa Millwood, pointed to a stack of more than 30 applications she processed in a single day.

"Everybody’s coming out of the woodwork to get a new gun permit," Millwood said. "I keep thinking everyone in Hall County should have a gun permit by now."

Gun owners only need the permit if they want to carry a handgun concealed on their person or stow it in an area of their car other than the glove compartment or in plain view. This year, Georgia’s "concealed-carry" law was expanded to allow gun owners to carry firearms into restaurants and on public transportation.

The permitting process includes a criminal background check and requires the submission of fingerprints.

There are various theories as to why firearm license applications are up.

Cornett said concerns about violent crime, and the perception that crime is up, have fueled some of the increases as folks buy guns for personal protection.

"More women are coming in for licenses, and more couples," she said.

Brian Worton, a 22-year-old from Buford who plans on purchasing a Glock handgun, came into Cornett’s office on Thursday to apply for a firearms license.

"There just seems to be a lot of violence nowadays, and I work at night," Worton said.

Worton, who works at a marina, plans on keeping the gun in his truck for protection.

The expansion of the state’s concealed-carry law, which took effect in July, also has prompted more applications, Cornett said.

"Any time that the legislature changes the law for any reason, one way or the other, the public seems to react," Cornett said. "When they made that law change, we definitely saw a big increase."

Politics arguably has one of the biggest influence on firearms consumers. Cornett said this year’s presidential race, and the fears of some that a Democratic president would institute some form of gun control, have no doubt played a part in the increase.

"The rumor is out that ammunition and guns will be taxed more," Cornett said. "True or not, that’s been expressed to us on several occasions."

Cornett noted that it’s hard to put a finger on how many applicants are new gun owners and how many are renewals. A Georgia firearms license must be renewed every five years. A simple population increase can account for some of the growth in applicants, she said.

Walt Sippel, a firing range manager at the Oakwood Sportsman Lodge, said recent firearms sales at the store are "a pretty even mixture" of people who already own guns and first-time gun owners. He believes the sinking economy and a perception of rising crime rates are major factors.

Crimes that get a lot of media attention tend to fuel gun sales, too.

"When (murder victim Meredith Emerson) was killed up in Dawson Forest, we had a big influx of first-time gun owners," Sippel said.

Sippel said many gun owners regard Democratic elected officials as "traditionally anti-gun," and so the election of Barack Obama to the presidency has influenced the marketplace.

"Any time the Democrats come into office, it’s good for the gun business," Sippel said. "It tends to stink for the private gun owner."

Sippel said he doesn’t think gun purchasers are overreacting to political events.

"I think they’re sending a clear message to their leaders that, ‘Hey, we want these.’"


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