Tuesday, March 11, 2014
By Michael Shepherd firstname.lastname@example.org
State House Bureau
AUGUSTA – If you want a concealed-weapons permit from the Maine State Police, be ready to wait three or four months: there's a 2,500-application backlog.
As gun sales have jumped in Maine, so has the demand for concealed-weapons permits.
File photo/ Carl D. Walsh
The following represents the number of concealed-weapons permits issued annually by the Maine State Police:
As gun sales have jumped in recent years, so has demand for the permits, said Lt. Scott Ireland, who runs the state police division that handles permit applications for more than 300 small towns, along with unorganized territories and townships. Larger towns and cities handle their own.
With 100 to 150 applications coming to Ireland's office daily now, the four employees who handle them – only one working on it full-time – are stretched.
In 2008, the year Barack Obama was elected president, the Maine State Police issued 3,912 permits, Ireland said. In 2009, the year Obama took office, they issued 5,706. And in 2012, the year of the president's re-election, the state police issued 7,574.
Ireland said 2013 will be another record year.
To many, there's no coincidence.
Many conservatives fear that gun rights will be restricted during Obama's administration.
"People got scared and they went out and started buying ammunition," said David Trahan, executive director of the Sportsman's Alliance of Maine. "I think Obama has woke up a sleeping giant."
Since his re-election and the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., in December, Obama has moved to back gun control.
In a recently announced proposal, he asked Congress to consider requiring background checks for all gun sales and reinstating a ban on assault weapons.
That has caused a national run on guns and ammunition. Trahan said those who feared Obama's positions on guns were right.
Robert Schwartz, executive director of the Maine Chiefs of Police Association, said he has been sending more blank applications to municipalities that handle their own permitting.
"People are concerned that they're going to lose some of their rights to own a firearm, and they want to get their permits," he said.
Nationally, federal background checks for gun purchases from dealers increased by more than 1.3 million from 2008, the year of Obama's election, to 2009, the year he took office.
Then, more than 14 million checks were done nationally. In 2012, that rose to more than 16.8 million, a 32 percent increase over 2008.
That trend is far more pronounced in Maine. From 2008 to 2012, the number of federal checks went from 56,561 to 91,834 -- a 62 percent increase.
That equates to one check for every 14 people in Maine last year. In 2000, there was one check for every 28.
In December 2012, there were 12,416 background checks. This January, there were 10,538. Those are the only two months since 1998, when the federal program began, when Maine broke the 10,000 mark.
Fort Kent Police Chief Kenneth Michaud said he has had trouble buying ammunition for an assault rifle the department keeps -- many suppliers say they're all out.
And he hears a common political sentiment when he talks to permit applicants. Many people in the Aroostook County town of more than 4,000 have guns, but it wasn't long ago when he issued only 20 concealed-weapons permits in a year. Now, he gets a request a week.
"People seem to think the president's going to take their guns away and ammunition away," he said. "Everybody's stocking up on ammunition. Why? I don't know."
Ireland said that since November's election, permit applications have piled up in his office.
In the Piscataquis County town of Milo, population 2,300, Police Chief Damien Pickel said 5 percent to 10 percent of residents have concealed-weapons permits.
Many just want to be able to carry a pistol in their pocket while hunting, he said. Some do it because it's their right.
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