The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

December 30, 2012

Handgun permits spike in Limestone

By Kim West
kwest@athensnews-courier.com

— The number of handgun permits issued by the Limestone County Sheriff’s Office in 2012 has spiked more than 21 percent from last year.

Sheriff Mike Blakely said there has been a considerable difference in the number of gun permits issued this year, especially the past two months.

“We sold 6,458 in 2011, and we’ve sold 7,825 this year as of Friday,” Blakely said.

There were 646 permits authorized in November, and 961 issued in December, including 412 from Dec. 14 through Dec. 28.

A permit allows a person “to carry a pistol in a vehicle or concealed on or about his or her person within this state for not more than one year from date of issue,” according to state law.

Well-armed populace

Based on the Limestone County’s population of 82,782, roughly one in every 10 residents is currently licensed to carry a pistol with a barrel measuring no more than 12 inches in length.

A pistol is defined as a small, short-barreled gun designed to be held in one hand. Pistols include revolvers — a Smith & Wesson M&P 360 or a Ruger SP101 — and semi-automatics, such as a Sig Sauer P226 or the Beretta 92A1.

Reason for increase

The general election was held Nov. 6, while the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn., that claimed the lives of 20 children and six staff members occurred Dec. 14.

Blakely theorized permits have increased because of people’s reaction to certain events, such as the school shooting, and the fear of the unknown.

“It’s because of some of the things that have happened this year and because people react to fears, whether they are well founded or not,” he said. “People see an isolated incident that happens and grabs everyone’s attention.

“It’s like when someone buys a lottery ticket and wins, then everyone else will run out to buy one.”

Permit requirements

The sheriff said a person has to meet several requirements to purchase a permit, which costs $15. They are issued on an annual basis and are available for renewal pending approval.

Being convicted of a moral turpitude crime, such as voluntary manslaughter, kidnapping or robbery, disqualifies someone from receiving a gun permit.

“You have to have a good record and not been arrested for a violent crime or a crime of moral turpitude,” Blakely said. “The sheriff has discretion where the (state) law says he may issue it, but there’s nothing that says that’s required.”

A person applying for a permit must fill out an application in person at the Sheriff’s Office and pass a background check through the National Crime Information Center.

Changing the law

The pistol permit law is listed in Section 13A-11-75 of the Alabama Code and reads in part, “The sheriff of a county, upon the application of any person residing in that county, may issue a qualified or unlimited license to such person …”

Blakely said there has been discussion to alter the wording from “may issue” to “shall issue,” which would take away a sheriff’s discretionary powers.

“We’re strong believers in people’s Second Amendment, but at the same time a lot of responsibility goes along with that,” he said. “It kind of amazes me that people are making a big deal of the “may” and “shall” law … I strongly disagree with changing that because a lot of times we know of reasons why people shouldn’t have a permit.

“There are times where a person hasn’t been charged with a crime but might have been committed four or five times in a year, or there’s a person going through a divorce who has threatened to kill a family member, the family cat or the neighbor. If a person has made threats, or it’s someone with mental illness issues, I have a moral obligation to defer and not issue a permit.”