Headlines spur rush for concealed-carry permits in Bucks, Montco

     In this Jan. 16, 2013 file photo, assault weapons and hand guns are seen for sale (Seth Perlman/AP File Photo)

    In this Jan. 16, 2013 file photo, assault weapons and hand guns are seen for sale (Seth Perlman/AP File Photo)

    When headlines in the news make you feel unsafe, you might be tempted to change your behavior.

    That’s the case in Bucks County, where officials report a spike in applications for permits to carry a concealed weapon.

    “The last time we had a kick like this [was] when they had the shooting up in Connecticut,” said Sheriff Duke Donnelly, referring to the 2012 shooting at an elementary school in Sandy Hook, Connecticut, that claimed the lives of six adults and 20 young children.

    In Pennsylvania, gun owners must have a permit to carry a weapon “concealed on one’s person or in a vehicle within this Commonwealth,” outside of their home or fixed place of business, according to the State Police website. The license lasts for five years.

    • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

    Donnelly said a normal day of permitting might bring in 25 people. Two or three would be applying for a new license, while the rest would be renewals. Since the terrorist attacks in Paris on Nov. 13, he said the number of new applications has increased five- or sixfold.

    On Friday, 46 people applied for concealed carry permits in Bucks County, and over half were applying for the first time. Monday, it was 48 people, according to Donnelly.

    “After a big event, we’ll see an increase for a couple weeks, then it dies down,” he said. Donnelly said people getting the license may never actually concealed carry; it just gives them that option.

    Montgomery County Sheriff Russell Bono said the department only keeps records on concealed gun carry records by the month, so day-by-day responses to a specific news event, such as the Paris attacks, are difficult to track.

    Anecdotally, “It seems like every time they read something in the paper, or they hear something on the news we get swarmed” for new permits, said Lt. Paul Kittredge, who manages gun permitting for the Montgomery County sheriff’s office.

    Bono said new permit applications in Montgomery have increased on the whole for the past five years, and can fluctuate month to month with no apparent reason.

    For example, “In September, there were 284 new applicants,” said Bono. “In October, there were 452 new applicants.”

    ‘What if?’ ruminations spark interest in guns

    Daniel Webster, director of the Center for Gun Policy and Research at Johns Hopkins University, said mass shootings increase a certain “what if?” thinking, that makes some people more interested in carrying a firearm.

    “If only the victims had been armed, some people argue, they would have been able to reduce the casualties, if nothing else,” he said. Webster said there’s no credible evidence that more people buying guns legally reduce crime rates.

    Gun purchase statistics and gun ownership also reveal a trend within those increases, according to Webster.

    “When you do household surveys and ask people, ‘Do you have a gun or does someone in your household have a gun?’ we haven’t seen much change in that” number, he said.

    Meanwhile, Webster said gun sales have increased steadily over the past 10 years. Social science research into who has been buying guns shows a split between two large categories of gun-owners, he said — those who buy them for hobby use, like hunting, and those who collect guns as a part of a social identity.

    “It appears there is one subset of individuals who are buying a lot of guns,” said Webster, of the second group.

    Kerry Friedland of French Creek Outfitters, a sporting goods store that carries firearms in Phoenixville, said she hadn’t noticed any specific uptick in sales in the last couple weeks.

    The holidays are a busy time, she said, and “deer season starts on Monday.”

    The Delaware County Sheriff’s office did not grant an interview in time for this article.

    WHYY is your source for fact-based, in-depth journalism and information. As a nonprofit organization, we rely on financial support from readers like you. Please give today.

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal