It has been a record-breaking year for concealed carry weapons in Boone County. As of December, the Sheriff’s Department was on pace to field the highest amount of permit requests it’s ever had, topping the 2013 record.
The uptick in requests this year surprised even the Sheriff’s Department, which had to request a budget amendment in October to account for additional revenue and expenses from the applications.
“I would anticipate we’ll probably end up close to 2,500 before it’s all said and done,” said Major Tom Reddin, Chief Deputy in the department and manager of the concealed carry licensing unit. “That is well above what the numbers were for last year.”
Reddin said that state law prohibits his office from collecting information on why people are applying for permits, which means he can’t give an exact reason for the increase. He guessed that recent population increases, local political and social climate or criminal activity could be an explanation.
However, the increase in concealed carry permit holders has outpaced the increase in population. Indeed, over the past ten years the percentage of residents in Boone County holding a concealed carry permit has quadrupled, according to the Sheriff’s Department.
Before requesting a permit, all applicants must undergo eight hours of firearm safety training. In the Columbia area, many permit hopefuls go to stores like Target Masters to take the course.
Jim Hill, a firearms instructor at Target Masters, said his concealed carry classes are filled at least six weeks beforehand and there are consistently requests to add more class sections.
Hill thinks the surge could be due to a number of factors. One, he said, might be the expanding demographics of those that are interested.
When carrying concealed weapons became legal in Missouri in 2003, most of Target Master’s concealed carry courses were all white men. In the past six years, more women and people of color have been signing up for the class.
“It’s been kind of a strange evolution, but I think that’s why it hasn’t slowed down,” Hill said.
Hill also said Boone County residents want to carry a concealed weapon because they are afraid of increasing crime rates, even though most violent and property crime is at or below average, according to the Columbia police department.
Another possible explanation may be the 2014 state law that reduced the age requirement for concealed carry requests, allowing people as young as 19 to obtain a permit. While people under 21 must rely on their parents to buy them guns, this law opened up a wider segment of the population to carry a firearm.
“Missouri is one of the states that has very lax concealed carry laws,” said Laura Cutilletta, a senior staff attorney at Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. “Some states give police discretion when determining who should be granted a permit. Missouri doesn’t do that. In Missouri you just have to meet basic criteria and you get a permit.”
The Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence grades states based on the strength of their state gun laws. States earn points in their ranking based on whether or not they have “common sense” firearm laws. Some of these laws include required waiting periods before buying guns, required reporting of lost or stolen guns, regulating firearm dealers and limiting the amount of firearms bought at one time.
Missouri has none of these laws, Cutiletta said. According to the Center’s grading system, Missouri ranks 44th out of 50 in the stringency of its gun safety laws.
“For the last year that statistics were available, Missouri had the 12th highest rate of gun death per capita in the country,” Cutiletta said. “So it’s got weak gun laws and a high gun death rate.”
Hill said he and other trainers are doing everything they can to prepare people to be safe gun owners.
“When they get the permit they understand how the law reads,” Hill said. “They know how and when they can use deadly force. All the instructors in the area preach that if you can avoid it and not cost you your life, run.”
2016 may bring changes for both Missouri gun rights and gun control advocates. Royce de R. Bardones, an MU law professor, has filed a suit against the University of Missouri system, arguing that barring concealed weapons on campus infringes on constitutional rights. Recently state Rep. Stacey Newman, D-St. Louis, prefiled a bill that would add the same restrictions to gun purchases as to abortions in the state.
Whatever the outcome, the coming months will bring plenty to talk about on both sides of the aisle.