Minnetrista Police Department received more applications for permits to purchase a firearm during the first six months of 2020 than it normally would in an entire year. Likewise, Orono PD has already processed 15 more of these applications than it did in all 12 months of 2019, and West Hennepin Public Safety is on track to match numbers historically seen only in other election years.
Between the coronavirus pandemic and George Floyd, three months early in the year have already turned 2020 into a banner year for socio-political events—and with the election still four months out.
The number of requests for firearm permits first ticked upward in March, when Gov. Tim Walz began issuing a series of progressively restrictive executive orders in response to the coronavirus pandemic. But much of the surge didn’t come until June, mere weeks after the Memorial Day killing of George Floyd while in Minneapolis Police custody and which set off a string of protests and riots nationwide.
Minnetrista Police Chief Paul Falls said that during the second week of June there was one day when he signed eight or nine purchase applications, more than he would in a typical week.
In Mound Wayzata, personal protection instructor Chris Sankey said that demand for his permit to carry courses, usually held once a month at the Minnetonka Sportsmen’s Club, has had him adding classes wherever he can fit them into the club’s schedule. “Anytime there’s an event that rattles the political winds or people hear things about the Second Amendment, you’ll see an uptick in this kind of traffic,” he said.
The surge hasn’t come as a surprise to law enforcement agencies: they’ve seen this before. Said Chris Fischer, deputy chief for Orono Police, key events can generate some “strong reactions.”
Bill Hutton, executive director for the Minnesota Sheriffs’ Association, has also heard about the traffic at local law enforcement agencies—after all, the Associaiton supplies these agencies with the physical cards held by those with permits to carry. Hutton said that sheriffs’ offices reliably see heightened demand for firearm permits “within a week or two” of a big election or “if a national incident occurred, if there was a mass shooting or something along that line.”
But election year or no, 2020 is already barreling ahead, on track locally to surpass the 2012 and 2016 election years in firearm applications.
Minnetrista PD in just six months has documented a number of firearm applications that’s neck-and-neck with the department’s yearly totals for both 2012 and 2016. Whereas the department processed a total of 112 applications in 2012 and 108 in 2016, it handled 105 applications between Jan. 1 and June 25 this year, with more than half of these processed in March and June (20 and 34, respectively). Historical data from 2008 to present show that in an ordinary, non-election year Minnetrista PD handles anywhere from 63 to 95 applications per year.
Figures from Orono Police show a similar inundation, with 144 of submitted applications processed during the first half of 2020. Monthly totals for this year show that, like in Minnetrista, the biggest months were March (29) and June (38). Orono PD processed 112 applications in all of 2012 and 189 in 2016.
“The reality of it is, right now people got a little clearer picture of how vulnerable they are,” said Sankey. “We just experienced in Minneapolis what it’s like to live where you no longer have the delusion of safety.”
Sankey said a visit to a Twin Cities area gun store the week after Floyd’s death was a peek into the frantic mind suddenly put on high alert. “I could not believe what I was witnessing. People were buying anything, long guns—hand guns it’s a much more tedious process—but those that could were buying just shotguns, that’s what people were doing: en masse just buying everything they could find.”
As a firearms instructor, Sankey said he’s largely focused on teaching situational awareness, so that we’re not living “10 minutes ago,” and on removing the “mystique” around firearms so that people better understand them as being nothing more than tools in last resort self-defense.
Sankey also pointed to national research out of the Crime Prevention Research Center that has shown permit holders to be among the most law-abiding citizens demographically. The education in firearms that those who carry receive isn’t a “cure all, by any means” to vulnerability, said Sankey, but “Getting a permit to carry is a reasonable place for many to engage in a conversation about personal safety and the fact that it is a personal responsibility.”
Local sheriff’s data on permits to carry a firearm show that the current scramble is apt to die out quickly: fewer than half of these permits ever get renewed.
The year following the Dec. 14, 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary that killed 28, injured two and lit a fire under the gun control debate, the Carver County Sheriff’s Office saw a record number of applications for permits to carry, processing in 2013 a total of 1,244 applications with 1,018 of these being applications for new permits and 226 of them for renewals.
But come 2018, when these permits were set to expire, the office processed just 518 renewals: of all new and renewed permits issued in 2013, only 42 percent of them were still valid five years later.
“Five years down the line, for people who are not renewing but who are new individuals, it may not be as important or it may not be having a direct effect on them and so they may not renew,” said the Sheriffs’ Association’s Hutton, referring to socio-political trigger events.
Sankey, too, said that while he knows of folks who renew their carry permit like clockwork every five years, the majority of those in his classes are typically those who are getting their permit for the first time.
Renewals may also not be as susceptible to the same factors that seem to govern new applications.
Though Carver County saw that significant spike in new applications in 2013—a spike of 62 percent over 2012—the Sheriff’s Office renewed that year just 56 percent of all 425 new and renewed permits from 2008, revealing a renewal rate just 15 percent higher than what the office has averaged for the past seven years.