Virginia’s permit requests, gun sales rise at record clip
Posted to: News Virginia
Utica Pledger prepares to load her weapon during the firing range portion of the concealed weapons permit class at Bob’s Gun Shop in Norfolk last week. (Thomas Slusser | Special to The Virginian-Pilot)
Erin King squeezed into a packed classroom at Bob’s Gun Shop with a new pistol and a mission.
She sat through two hours of instruction and fired off several dozen rounds at the range with her Guardian .32-caliber. The 26-year-old from Suffolk bought her first gun a few weeks ago and plans to get a concealed-carry permit next month.
She’ll slip her pistol into a hidden holster and protect herself commuting to her part-time job cleaning offices at night. “I’m responsible for myself,” King said.
As the classroom shows, she’s not alone.
Driven by safety concerns or political angst, gun sales and applications for concealed-carry permits are booming.
Applications for concealed-carry permits statewide have jumped 42 percent from the same period last year, when the state issued a record number, according to the Virginia Supreme Court. In South Hampton Roads, this year’s requests are running nearly 40 percent over last year’s. Most are granted.
In May, the number of active concealed-weapons permits in Virginia reached 188,900,
according to the Virginia State Police. More people than ever are eligible to carry concealed handguns in the state.
Reported firearms sales by licensed dealers and gun shops in Virginia have also skyrocketed.
Dealers sold 60 percent more guns in November 2008 than they had in November 2007, according to State Police records. Sales by licensed dealers are on pace to break last year’s record by more than 30 percent. The totals do not include private sales.
Steve Dowdy, firearms instructor at Bob’s Gun Shop in Norfolk, said gun owners fear they will lose their rights under President Barack Obama and a Democratic Congress. “I hear this every day: ‘I want to get this while I can,’ ” Dowdy said.
Aaron Karp, a consultant with Small Arms Survey, a think tank studying international policies and proliferation of firearms, agrees that political motivations and a strong gun lobby have driven the increases.
A perception of growing lawlessness in communities can also drive people to buy and carry handguns, he said. For example, a proliferation of gangs in Hampton Roads could spur residents to purchase more handguns, said Karp, also a political science lecturer at Old Dominion University.
Gun sales have historically increased in healthy economic times, which makes the recent spike during this recession unusual, Karp said.
To obtain a concealed-handgun permit in Virginia, a person must be at least 21 and demonstrate handgun competency, which can be accomplished by completing an approved gun safety course or showing proof of military service. The person must also undergo a criminal background check. Total fees are capped at $50.
“A driver’s license is harder to get,” Karp said.
A survey of recently approved applications at the Chesapeake courthouse show a wide range of permit holders: fathers and sons, active-duty Navy officers, enlisted sailors and even a retired Baptist minister.
Jim Coppage, 66, received his permit about a month after he filed his application in Chesapeake Circuit Court. The long time gun owner said he did it to make a political statement.
He renewed his membership to the National Rifle Association. He said he noticed that it’s become difficult to find ammunition in outdoors stores. He watched gun-control laws tighten in Illinois, where Obama served as senator.
“I don’t trust the president,” he said. “I wanted to do it and express my rights.”
But he has no intention of carrying a concealed handgun. “I don’t expect a war,” said the retired Navy senior chief petty officer. “Some people are. I’m not.”
Jimmi Bonavita, a former Virginia Beach police officer, said the handgun activity is probably the most he’s seen in his 35 years as a weapons instructor.
He began teaching a new concealed-weapons permit class in September after noticing a growing demand, he said. When properly handled, he said, a concealed weapon “gives you better protection for you and your family.”
Doug Pennington, spokesman for the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said statistics actually show reported violent crime decreasing. According to the FBI, violent crimes reported to police decreased 2.5 percent between 2007 and 2008.
Pennington dismissed the argument that tougher gun-control laws would completely strip gun owners’ rights. “It’s never going to happen,” he said. “Nobody is ever going to take all the guns away.”
Bob’s Gun Shop, housed in a old brick building on Granby Street in downtown Norfolk, is one of several shops that offer training courses for concealed weapons. They’ve been running full classes at least once a week since the fall, Dowdy said.
On a recent Tuesday night, he ran through the basics of safely handling a gun for about 30 students. After that, the students went to the top-floor shooting range.
Shanika Pledger, 27, brought her cousin and a friend to the course. Although they joked about their shooting skills on the paper targets, they planned to buy their own guns and get concealed-carry permits.
Pledger and her husband, Dontay, decided they need a handgun for protection because of growing crime in their Norfolk neighborhood.
“He thought it was a good idea,” Pledger said. “We’re living in different times.”
09 Jun 2009 10:37 pm morgan 0 comments