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Gun permits skyrocket in first five months of 2021

Between Jan. 1, 2021 and June 2, the Olmsted County Sheriff's Office has received 1,058 applications for permits to carry and 726 applications for permits to purchase. In all of 2020, the sheriff's office received a combined total of 3,690.

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Image by LovableNinja from Pixabay

If you woke up Friday morning and decided now was the time to apply for a permit to carry a gun in Olmsted County, it would be at least a month until you could get an appointment with the Olmsted County Sheriff's Office.

You wouldn't be alone, though, in getting a permit. Over the past 15 months, applications in the county have skyrocketed.

"Every presidential election we see an increase (in permit applications) as there gets to be more discussion about gun control," Olmsted County Sheriff Kevin Torgerson said. "And now, it's just not stopping."

Between Jan. 1 and June 2, the Olmsted County Sheriff's Office has received 1,058 applications for permits to carry and 726 applications for permits to purchase. In all of 2020, the sheriff's office received a combined total of 3,690 -- 1,630 permits to carry and 2,060 permits to purchase.

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Data from the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension shows that the sheriff's office issued 329 permits to carry from Jan. 1, 2020, to May 31, 2020. During that same time frame in 2021, the sheriff's office issued issued 1,302 permits to carry.

To deal with the increase, Torgerson and Chief Deputy Brian Howard asked county commissioners last week to allow them to hire a records technician, whose main responsibility would be keeping up with the demand for permits to purchase and permits to carry.

Olmsted County Commissioner Mark Thein was one of three commissioners at the admirative committee meeting on June 1 when Torgerson and Howard spoke of the need for a records technician. He said at the meeting and again later that week that he had heard from nearly a dozen constituents since the pandemic began that they were frustrated with how long it would take to get a permit appointment with the sheriff's office.

Prior to the pandemic, Thein said he maybe had one or two emails a year, "nothing like 2020."

The request was approved and the position will be posted as soon as possible, according to Olmsted County Administrator Heidi Welsch.

Recently, the sheriff's office honored 14 staff members who stepped in during the last year to help keep up with the demand for permits. Each time a permit is submitted, whether it's a renewal or the first time, a background check needs to be done and that takes time.

In addition to an onslaught of new applications, the sheriff’s office is also statutorily required to do annual background checks on all existing permit holders.

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“With 4,000 gun permits and half-an-hour a piece, that is one FTE (full-time employee) for the year,” Howard said of the annual reviews.

Once an application for a permit is received, the sheriff's office has 30 days to respond -- a timeline mandated by state statute. At the start of the coronavirus pandemic, the Olmsted County Sheriff's Office, and many others around the state, stopped taking applications for about a month as they figured out to move the process online.

When that was accomplished, Torgerson said they then had to be mindful of social distancing requirements and thus, the appointment system was born.

This is not the first time the sheriff's office has made the request. Torgerson and Howard said during budget discussions in 2019 they asked county commissioners to hire a person to help process gun permit applications -- in part because of the expected increase that typically comes in election years.

In order to get a permit to carry or renew a permit, gun owners (or would-be gun owners) must first take a class. There are a number of companies in Olmsted County that provide those classes.

“Rochester has been really good for us,” said Christina Stamps, operations manager for Equip 2 Conceal. “We consistently teach classes there usually every month.”

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The company, headquartered in Florida, offers classes in 17 states including Minnesota, and typically there are about two dozen classes a month at area Fleet Farms. In the past, classes haven’t been as busy in the summer months but Stamps said that hasn’t been the case this last year.

“It has been really consistent and really full and sometimes to the point where we have had to hold two classes in one day to cover all the students,” she said. “There has always been a need, but I think it has been more prevalent the last couple of years.”

All but one county saw an increase in permits

Olmsted County is not alone in its sharp increase of permits to carry. All but one county in Minnesota saw an increase between 2020 and 2021.

In Cook County, population 5, 176, 36 permits to carry were issued between Jan. 1, 2020, and May 31, 2020. During that same time this year, 29 permits were issued, according to data from the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension.

The state's remaining counties all issued 156% more permits than the year before.

It may be no surprise that the state's most populous counties -- Hennepin, Ramsey, Dakota and Anoka, issued the most permits between Jan. 1 and May 31, but the growth didn't account for the largest change.

That distinction goes to Kittson County.

In the northwestern county of approximately 4,600 people, 183 permits were issued between Jan. 1 and May 31. During that same time period in 2020, 13 permits were issued, making the difference a whopping 1,408% change.

According to data from FBI's National Instant Criminal Background Check System , six of the 10 highest days for firearm background checks occurred in 2021. The government began tracking these background checks in 1998.

Emily Cutts is the Post Bulletin's public safety reporter. She joined the Post Bulletin in July 2018 after stints in Vermont and Western Massachusetts.
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