The number of people seeking permits to carry concealed weapons in Pitkin County is on the rise.
In 2012, the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office received 59 applications for concealed handgun permits and 42 were issued, according to the trade organization, County Sheriffs of Colorado. Eight of those were renewals. That is up compared to the 35 permits issued, including renewals, in 2011. Prior to that, the county was averaging about 17 a year.
Colorado law on concealed weapons was tweaked in 2003, making it easier to get a permit. Before then, it was up to the discretion of each county sheriff to issue a permit to an applicant based on the legal concept of moral turpitude. The new law created a uniform statewide process, requiring sheriffs to issue the permits as long as the applicant is fingerprinted, clears an FBI background check, takes a handgun safety training course and pays a $150 fee.
Last year, Pitkin County Sheriff Joe DiSalvo denied one application for a permit and revoked another based on the applicant’s arrest record. County sheriffs have the discretion to revoke or deny permits based on a person’s arrest record and reasonable moral concern against the applicant carrying a concealed weapon.
DiSalvo determines whether to revoke a permit based on the person’s mental health issues and history of recidivism and violent criminal behavior, he said. While some sheriffs prevent people from carrying a concealed weapon if they have a history of any criminal activity, in Pitkin County one instance of drunk driving will not necessarily get a permit revoked, DiSalvo said.
Local handgun safety course instructors Sheldon Fingerman and Dave Hatch said they have both seen an uptick in the number of people interested in getting a concealed handgun permit since the Dec. 14 elementary school shooting in Newtown, Conn. That day a lone shooter, armed with two handguns and an assault rifle, entered an elementary school in Newtown and killed 27 people, including 20 children, and himself. The event has ignited support from a range of interest groups for stricter gun-control laws. President Barack Obama issued a proposal on Wednesday which aims to reduce gun violence. It includes enforcing stricter background checks, and instituting a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.
Hatch is a Garfield County deputy sheriff who has taught a concealed handgun safety course to about 1,800 people in the valley over the past 11 years. The number of students taking his course has quadrupled in the past month, he said. Hatch typically teaches one class of about 16 to 20 students a month, and now he’s currently averaging about two classes of 20 students a month in addition to private group lessons of four to eight people once a week, he said.
The number of people seeking concealed handgun permits typically go up during election years, because of the belief gun ownership will become stricter under a Democratic president, Hatch said.
“It is a big joke that Obama is the No. 1 gun salesman,” Hatch said. “It is a joke but it’s true.”
The same phenomenon is happening in light of the Newtown shooting, Hatch said. Fingerman, who teaches smaller private lessons, has noticed the same trend, he said.
“The funny thing is that Obama is trying to keep guns out of people’s hands, meanwhile guns are flying off the shelf,” Fingerman said. “They’re probably going into hands of people who don’t even have a clue how to use them and they never in a million years would have thought of getting one.”
The courses Hatch and Fingerman teach explain how a gun works, how to shoot safely and what the laws are regarding ownership. Once students pass the course, they receive a certificate, which they include in their concealed handgun permit application to the county sheriff’s office.
“I believe a lot of people look down at me because I’m teaching people how to shoot guns — especially in this community,” Fingerman said. “But I believe I’m a part of the solution, not the problem, because I’m teaching people how to be safe with guns.”
Hatch usually starts his class with everyone introducing themselves and explaining why they’re interested in carrying a concealed handgun, he said. The most common reason is that people are afraid of what is going on in the world and they want to be able to protect themselves, he said. The makeup of most of his students are people over the age of 40, but lately Hatch has seen an increase in the number of twentysomethings who are getting permits, he said. The youngest he has ever taught how to use a gun was 12 years old and the oldest was 70, Hatch said.
Hatch said he doesn’t think the president’s gun-control proposal is the way to stop shootings. Banning guns is ineffective at preventing shootings, because it will not stop bad guys from getting a hold of weapons, Hatch said.
The way to prevent shootings is to impose stricter punishment for shooters and to arm more good guys with guns, he said. One of the problems is that no media attention is given to situations where a potential shooter is killed by someone who has a gun, Hatch said.
“If somebody saves people by shooting a guy with a gun you never hear about it,” Hatch said. “If somebody kills people with a gun you hear about it.”
Fingerman is more amenable to gun control laws than Hatch, but he agrees that stricter punishment for shooters could help deter escalating violence, he said. Ultimately, instructors need to be trained to identify troubled students before they resort to shooting, he said.
“Teachers have to learn who these kids are and follow up and not ignore the problem,” Fingerman said.
Meanwhile, last year Garfield County received 410 applications for a concealed handgun permits and 364 were issued, of which 99 were renewals, according to County Sheriffs of Colorado. Three permits were denied based on the applicants’ arrest records, six were revoked after an arrest and two were pulled based on the individual’s mental illness or addiction problems. In 2011, 239 permits were issued, including renewals. Eagle County has not yet submitted its data on how many concealed handgun permits were issued in 2012.
County Sheriffs of Colorado is still collecting information regarding the total number of concealed handgun permits issued statewide last year, said Gary Cure, assistant executive director of the organization. About 70 percent of counties in the state have reported that information, Cure said.