Concealed gun permits soar in Mesa County and state

Karen hadn’t needed a handgun in 30 years.

That was back when the Fruita bookkeeper, now 66, worked alongside prisoners, riding back and forth daily from various hospitals in California as a deputy of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department.

“I think everybody is a little more respectful when there’s a gun around, you know what I mean?” said Karen, who did not want her last name published.

Spurred earlier this year by what she called rumors of new restrictions looming from Washington, D.C., she bought a new .22-caliber handgun and surfed the Internet for local firearms safety classes.

Her new concealed weapons permit recently arrived in the mail.

“It’s not just a right, but a responsibility to train and know how to use it,” said Karen, who lives alone and keeps her gun in her purse. “You don’t just get a (CWP) because you can.”

While surveys suggest Mesa County residents feel safe in their neighborhoods, they’ve also armed themselves with concealed guns at a rate that has increased fourfold over five years.

In line with state and nationwide trends, yearly 2009 totals through Sept. 23 for concealed weapon permit applications to the Mesa County Sheriff’s Department stood at a record 1,033, according to department figures.

Of those, 873 permits had been approved or were awaiting a decision.

Colorado is on a pace to shatter last year’s record of 20,998 applications, the highest since the Legislature in 2004 set statewide standards for concealed handguns and put county sheriffs in charge of issuing permits.

Through June, the state’s sheriffs reported 16,000 applications filed.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if we had another 20,000 in the last six months,” said Don Christensen, executive director of the County Sheriffs of Colorado.

Christensen said the vast majority of last year’s numbers were filed after the Nov. 4 election.

“People are worried about gun rights, restrictions on purchases and taxes,” he said.

Those fears have been a boon for the firearms industry and an opportunity for people like Clair Swartzentruber. Laid off in January from his job in the oil fields, the 27-year-old Delta resident launched a firearms instruction class, Freedom First Academy.

“Most of my students come from Mesa County,” he said.

His students are worried about crime and a soured economy, he said.

“A lot of people have had guns for years and just now want to learn how to shoot them,” Swartzentruber said. “With the political climate, they’re afraid they may not have their rights forever.”

Critics call it baseless paranoia.

“I know in a tight economy, I think of things not to spend money on rather than on things I need to spend money on right away,” said Peter Hamm, a spokesman for the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.

“If your response to anxiety is to buy a firearm, you should probably take a deep breath.”

Mesa County Sheriff Stan Hilkey said the county’s sharp rise in permits — which outpaces neighboring Garfield, Delta and Montrose counties — is not on his list of concerns.

“As time passes (since the law was enacted in 2004), people are just more aware they can do this, and you see the numbers grow,” said Hilkey, a self-described gun rights supporter.

“The people who we are worried about are not the types who are getting permits,” he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.


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