Politics & Government

South Carolina’s fever for concealed guns may be cooling

The rush in South Carolina for concealed weapons permits may finally be slowing down.

According to figures by the State Law Enforcement Division provided to The Greenville News, the agency issued 64,412 permits in 2014, a drop of almost 20,000. And the state is on track to issue about the same number or less this year, updated figures show.

Those involved in selling guns or instructing gun owners offered a variety of explanations, from a belief by some that the concealed weapons permit law would be changed this year by lawmakers to a saturation of permits in the state’s population.

“A lot of people that are in the gun community already, they’ve already got their license,” said John Byrd, a firearms instructor at Delta Defense in Piedmont. “The people who are getting their permits now are people who are newer to guns, I would say. They are people who have never shot before or all of a sudden have a need for personal protection.”

Johannes Baddorf, a concealed weapons permit instructor for Allen Arms in Greenville, said he thinks the “panic” after incidents like the school shooting at Sandy Hook that kept ammunition in short supply for years as since subsided.

“We haven’t had any major catastrophes recently to drive people to buy rifles, for example, or stockpile ammunition,” he said. “And that kind of goes in cycles. Something bad happens, people panic and they want to buy boxes of ammunition and they want to buy guns. I think applying for concealed weapons permit kind of goes along with that.”

In 2011, SLED issued 39,311 permits, which includes new permits and renewals.

The following year, that number jumped to 62,490 and jumped again in 2013 to 84,494.

But last year, according to SLED, the agency issued 64,412 permits, including 27,705 new permits and 36,707 renewals.

This year, through Aug. 21, the agency has issued 39,519 permits.

“A lot of folks who are willing to go through it have gone through it,” Sen. Lee Bright, a Spartanburg County Republican and ardent supporter of gun rights, said of the permit process. “I think most of the folks who wanted them have gone out and gotten them and the other folks just aren’t willing to go through the hassle.”

The permits are valid for five years. To get one, a person must undergo training, including at a firearms range, not be prohibited under the law from possessing a firearm, submit their fingerprints, proof of residence or ownership of real property, a valid driver’s license, a $50 fee and a completed application.

The state has 263,557 active concealed weapons permits, according to SLED, more than double the 103,868 on hand in 2009.

The state’s population from 2010 to 2014 grew 4.5 percent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. During that same time period, the total number of active concealed weapons permits jumped by almost 100 percent.

One factor that also may have influenced some in permit decisions was a belief that lawmakers were about to change the law, Baddorf said.

“People were under the misunderstanding that they were not going to have to have a permit,” he said. “There was some legislation that people were thinking was going to do away with the concealed weapons permit program or make South Carolina a state where you could carry concealed without a permit. And that obviously did not make it through.”

Several years ago, when the state was still in a frenzy of gun and ammunition purchases, classes were filled for every concealed weapons class he knew, Baddorf said.

“It was insane,” he said. “Right before I became a CWP instructor (two years ago) it started to drop off a little bit and it’s sort of been on a slow and steady decline since then, at least for me.”

But not everyone has seen a decline in students.

Jim Braziel, manager of Sharpshooters Indoor Range and Gun Club in Greenville, said he has had 300 students take classes in his store so far this year.

“And that’s more than we did all of last year combined,” he said. “On our end it’s on the rise. But that’s just one of how many hundreds of instructors across the state?”

Byrd said he doesn’t think interest is falling off.

In fact, he said, a lot more women are taking classes now than a decade ago.

“Some of that probably comes down to women are being more active in protecting themselves,” he said. “We’re not talking about women whose husband signed them up for the class. They are doing it because they want to do it.”

Not all permits are granted and SLED last year denied 948 permits, down from 1,185 the year before. The percentage of denials to total permits issued, however, has remained steady, at about 1.4 percent.

SLED revoked 895 permits last year, up from 335 the year before.

SLED spokesman Thom Berry said he was not sure why more permits were revoked.

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