Sheriffs from Isanti, Chisago counties address rise in permits to carry guns
— This is the first installment of a two-part series appearing in both the ECM Post Review and Isanti County News. Next week, part two will focus on perspectives from local gun shop owners Tom Borchardt of Bullseye Shooting Range in North Branch and Jim Walters of S.H.R. Sales in Isanti.
Gun proponents, in recent years, grew especially concerned about stricter gun control laws when President Barack Obama, a known gun control advocate, was re-elected and started his second term in January 2012.
That December, concern only escalated following the school shooting in Newtown, Conn., that killed 20 students and six teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School. As it happens after a major gun-related event, discussion over gun rights was the main headline in Washington on down to state and local boards of government.
Ever since, Obama has called on Congress to pass tougher gun control legislation with an emphasis, in part, on more thorough background checks, support of mental health and banning military-style assault rifles and high-capacity magazines. More needs to happen to keep dangerous people from getting their hands on guns so easily, the president said in media reports.
Many residents from across the nation to right here in Isanti and Chisago counties in the past year exercised their right to renew permits and bear arms. The evidence can be seen in the increase of permits to carry between 2012 and 2013, along with the hours of time county sheriff offices have been processing them.
On March 5, Isanti County Sheriff Bill Guenther informed the Isanti County Board that his office is still playing catch-up in processing residents’ permits to carry. In fact, the number of these five-year permits doubled from 352 in 2012 to 743 in 2013.
“That ranks us 17th in the state,” he noted.
In Chisago County, the number more than doubled from 465 to 1,038, while carry permits in Hennepin County went from 4,700 to 8,000 in the same time frame.
“Gun permits in Chisago County have gone up in the past two years,” Chisago County Sheriff Rick Duncan said this week. “The main driving factor related to the increase has been the fear of gun laws changing, not crime. As you know, after the several national gun shooting incidents, there was an influx of legislation being formed to change our gun laws. This put a fear in people … which drove the applying for gun permits in pretty much all counties.”
Duncan supports the Minnesota Sheriff’s Office in its stand that “we have laws in place, and it is not the gun laws that will have an effect on violence; it is a mental health issue. Law enforcement does not have access to enough of the mental health reports to make an accurate decision on issuing gun permits due to insufficient reports and lack of the data being entered into the systems.
“Our push is to change legislation that will allow access and to make sure the data is placed in the database checks in a timely matter,” Duncan added.
About the gun permit process
Following the Isanti County Board meeting, Guenther said a total of 1,429 gun permits — reflecting the one-year permit to purchase and the five-year permit to carry — were issued last year.
The permit to purchase allows gun owners to have as many guns as they want over a year’s time free of charge, while the permit to carry is good for five years and costs $100, he said, noting people often go with the permit to carry.
People can carry a gun anywhere in the state except in certain designated places, such as a government facility, courtroom or at businesses that post signs on their storefronts indicating no firearms are allowed on the premises.
To obtain a permit to carry, Guenther continued, people apply in the county in which they live, and they must take a use of force and firearm training course; these classes are offered at many shooting ranges and gun shops. Background checks are required, as well.
“We’ll start with someone’s criminal history,” Guenther said. “If something comes up, we’ll investigate it further.”
Guenther said the main disqualifiers include a mental health commitment, any felony convictions on record and any crime of violence, ranging from murder to armed robbery, from criminal sexual conduct to domestic violence.
“Domestic violence is the big one, especially now,” he said. “A provision in federal statute says even if a domestic violence or assault is legally dropped down to a disorderly conduct — typically by plea bargain — it can disqualify someone because it involves family violence.
“I’ve probably denied 10 (permit to carry applications) since I’ve been doing this,” Guenther added. “We can pull actual court documents when (staff) has an issue with a gun permit. Of those denied, I’ve received a few phone calls, and they are understanding of the law.”
For those who do have a felony or crime of violence on their record, they would need to get the conviction expunged, which is neither cheap nor easy, the sheriff noted.
In addition, the sheriff’s office by law has seven days to issue a permit to purchase and 30 days for issuing a permit to carry.
“We’re on a constant deadline,” Guenther said.
Over the term of an issued permit, he continued, gun carriers are subject to certified Bureau of Criminal Apprehension training and background checks. In light of annual checks on a permit holder’s criminal history, “if something pops up, we can revoke a permit,” Guenther said.
2013 Permit to Carry Annual Report
The Bureau of Criminal Apprehension recently released the 2013 Permit to Carry Report, an annual document summarizing data — from applications made for handgun carry permits to data about permit holders — that is collected by Minnesota law enforcement agencies.
In the report, Minnesota sheriffs informed the BCA that of the 62,950 permits applied for last year, 60,471 were issued. This is nearly double the number issued in 2012. Here’s a breakdown:
Year Permits Issued
The top five counties for permits issued in 2013:
County Permits Issued
Sheriffs reported there were 28 permits suspended, 11 revoked, 18 voided and 540 denied in 2013. As of Feb. 28, the total number of valid permits in Minnesota was 165,295.
Crimes committed by permit holders
Minnesota law enforcement agencies reported that individuals with permits committed 1,023 crimes in 2013. More than half were DWIs or other traffic offenses.
The 2013 data on crimes committed by individuals with permits show rates that are significantly higher than in years past. In addition to an increase in criminal activity, these numbers may be impacted by these factors:
• There were more permit holders in 2013 than there had been previous years. The total number of active permits in Minnesota is up by 32 percent over the same time last year.
• The initial group of permits issued under the law were first eligible for renewal in 2008 and again in 2013. Of the applications made in 2013, 12,469 (20 percent) were for renewals.
• Not all police departments had been submitting data on crimes and justifiable use of firearms by permit holders as required by Minnesota law. The BCA in 2013 communicated with local agencies to remind them of their responsibility to provide this data.
• Law enforcement agencies switched to electronic-based reporting, which may have led to more complete reporting.
Minnesota’s Personal Protection Act was first enacted in 2003. Permits were first eligible for renewal in 2008.
Individuals wishing to obtain a Minnesota Permit to Carry must apply for the permit at their local sheriff’s office and provide proof of approved firearms training. Sheriffs then must follow a law-defined process, checking FBI, BCA and Department of Homeland Security records as well as their own data for any disqualifying information. Individuals denied a permit have the right to appeal the denial.
Law enforcement agencies are then required to report their data on gun permit applications, issuances and denials to the BCA. The BCA compiles the public information provided by Minnesota law enforcement agencies into its annual report.
For this full report, go to bca.dps.mn.gov and click on Statistics/Reports and then Permit to Carry.