The 18 westernmost counties of North Carolina have seen a significant increase in demand for concealed carry handgun permits, leading to longer wait times for the issuance of permits in some counties.
Carolina Public Press surveyed the sheriff’s offices in Western North Carolina and found that demand for concealed handgun permits in Henderson County is among the highest in the region.
After issuing 604 new permits in 2011, Henderson County saw a 42 percent increase to 863 in 2012. From January through March of 2013, the county had already issued 110 new permits, a 14 percent rise over the same three-month period in 2012, according to Maj. Frank Stout of the Henderson County Sheriff’s Office.
It’s a similar story in Cherokee County. According to Deborah Angel of the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office, the county saw 177 new applications for concealed carry permits from January through April of 2012. During the same four-month period in 2013, the county received 342 new applications, a 93 percent increase. The number of new applications the county receives is on pace to easily exceed 2012’s total of 497 by the end of this year.
They aren’t alone. Sheriff’s department spokespeople in Avery, Buncombe, Haywood, Madison, Polk and Transylvania counties have also reported increases, leading, in many cases, to a backlog of prospective applicants that goes on for weeks or even months into the future.
The Haywood County Sheriff’s Office takes seven to 11 in-person applications per weekday. Applicants must schedule appointments in advance.
In 2012, Haywood County received 870 new applications for concealed carry permits. From January through April 2013, the county had already matched more than half that total with 485 new applications, according to the county sheriff’s office.
Demand for concealed carry permits in Avery County has increased so much that the average wait time from when the county receives an application to when an approved applicant receives his or her permit has gone from two weeks to as much as four or five weeks.
Transylvania County has booked appointments through June. However, the county only sees new applicants on Tuesday and Wednesday of every-other week, for a total of four to six days in a given month. The county is considering scheduling appointments on additional days to expedite the process.
And while some reported dramatic new increases in demand for concealed carry handgun permits, others showed that the uptick in interest has been going on for more than a year.
Madison County regularly experiences a spike in demand for concealed carry permits during the winter holiday season, according to the Madison County Sheriff’s Office. In Polk County, the demand for concealed carry permits began growing in spring of 2012 and has not slowed, according to the Polk County Sheriff’s Office.
Most WNC counties take concealed carry permit applications at the county sheriff’s office. The one exception is in Buncombe County, which takes applications at the City-County Bureau of Identification in Asheville, where the documents can be notarized, a process that takes approximately 30 minutes.
Buncombe County previously allowed walk-in applications but now requires appointments to be set in advance due to the recent increase in demand.
“To date, the appointments range between today and the first week in June, but that is not to say one will need to wait until June to meet with us, as the schedule is very fluid as people cancel, reschedule and fail to appear,” said Patricia Freeman, director of the City-County Bureau of Identification. “It is our goal to meet all citizen requests for new applicants and to schedule those needing to renew in an efficient and timely manner.”
Buncombe County accepts new applications for concealed carry permits every weekday, excluding holidays. Permits were previously issued within 60 to 90 days of application in Buncombe County, but with the recent influx of applicants it now usually takes at least 90 days.
While demand has increased throughout WNC, many of the less-populous counties such as Swain and Mitchell still generally do not require people to set appointments in advance and will take walk-in applications.
The Yancey County Sheriff’s Office ostensibly requires appointments but will accept walk-in applicants if it’s not a busy day. Madison County does not currently require appointments, but that may change as demand for concealed carry permits continues to rise.
How North Carolinians obtain concealed handgun permits
Permit holders may lawfully carry a concealed handgun “either on or about his or her person” in public locations, according to the law. That includes having the concealed weapon within reach and convenient control, such as in a motor vehicle’s glove compartment, regardless of whether the person is physically carrying it on his or her body.
Anyone applying for a concealed handgun permit must allow their county sheriff’s office to record their fingerprints. This can cause the process to take even longer when the available times to record fingerprints do not coincide with when the counties take applications for permits. For instance, Jackson County will take new applicants during regular business hours Monday through Friday and does not require advance appointments, but fingerprinting is only done on Wednesdays from 1 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.
State law mandates that anyone wishing to apply for a concealed carry permit must first complete a firearm safety course under a certified firearm instructor. These classes are offered by independent parties, rather than by a state or county agency or department, and typically take one day to complete.
Shannon Frazier is an NRA-certified instructor who teaches firearm safety courses at Guns ‘N Gear in Candler through WNC Concealed Carry. He has had more than 300 students so far this year.
According to Frazier, at least 70 percent of the people who enroll in his firearm safety classes are professionals aged 50 and older. Of his last 106 students, 64 were male and 42 were female.
Concealed carry licenses in North Carolina are valid for five years from the date of issuance. Applications for renewal must be submitted at least 30 days prior to the date of expiration, but according to Frazier, quite a few permit holders choose not to renew after the first five years.
“Most folks find out that responsible carrying of a firearm is a lot of trouble for very little benefit,” Frazier said. “Only about 15 percent of folks with a carry permit actually carry on a regular basis. Only about 5 percent ever get any further training.”
North Carolina’s laws prohibiting the carry of concealed weapons in public locations are not limited to firearms. While permit holders can carry concealed handguns in public, it is still unlawful for anyone to carry concealed bowie knives, dirks, daggers, slingshots, loaded canes, metallic knuckles, razors, shuriken, stun guns or other deadly weapons “of like kind” in a public place.
Law enforcement and armed forces personnel who are actively carrying out their official duties are exempt from the prohibition. Off-duty law enforcement, state probation and parole officers are also exempt, provided that they do not carry concealed weapons while alcohol or unlawful controlled substances are in their bodies.
By law, residents of North Carolina must have their permit and a valid form of identification on their person whenever they are carrying a concealed handgun, and they must disclose those facts whenever they are approached or addressed by any law enforcement officer.
Frazier used to think that people acted out of fear when they sought a concealed handgun permit, but he said that he eventually concluded that this isn’t exactly the case.
“I think it is motivated by uncertainty more than driven by fear,” Frazier said. “Most folks tell me they have been thinking about a carry permit class a long time, they have just never gotten around to it. A rash of robberies, political uncertainty, etc. seem to get folks off the fence and make them act on something they were going to do anyway.”