Local gun permits spike to record levels
More people than ever before are packing guns in Steele County, with a record number of permits to carry issued in 2020.
Sheriff Lon Thiele said his office issued 918 permits to carry last year, more than double the total for 2019. He said last year's total was the highest ever issued by his office, topping the previous high of 566 set in 2016.
And law enforcement officials and gun experts don't expect it to let up any time soon.
Just last week, 30 permit applications awaited Thiele's approval. Thiele has already approved 299 permits for this year.
"We're tracking ahead of last year," he said.
Thiele said people are telling him that they are getting guns "to protect themselves."
For Thiele, the spike in gun permits is alarming. He said he is concerned that people are getting a weapon for the right reasons.
Mark Lamphere, a retired sheriff's deputy from Dodge County who now teaches gun training with the 20 Rifle and Pistol Club in Medford, said he has also noticed the surge in people rushing out to purchase guns. "It's crazy," he said. "It has just skyrocketed with the (Joseph) Biden election."
Lamphere said he attributes the dramatic increase to last fall's presidential election and people being cooped up in their homes during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"People are becoming paranoid as Democrats are trying to take away guns," said Lamphere. "The big worry right now is whether the government is going to take our guns away."
Sheriff Thiele said the violent riots in the Twin Cities and elsewhere around the country and the civil unrest that followed George Floyd's death have also played a role in more people wanting to protect themselves.
About five people each month have been taking a four-hour gun safety course from Lamphere. He said his students, many of which are women, have never fired a gun before.
Lamphere said he stresses safety in his gun training. He said it's important to always know whether the gun is loaded or not. He also said he believes if the firearm is stored safe and secure, there shouldn't be a problem.
He said he also reviews state laws on the use of force and deadly force with his students.
"I'm still a big believer in training," Lamphere said. "Training never hurts anyone. People have to use common sense when it comes to firearms."
Lamphere said he typically requires students to shoot 48 rounds for their firearms test. However, because of a shortage of ammunition the past six months, Lamphere has cut the firearms test down to 15 rounds.
"I make sure they are competent with that gun," he said, adding semi-automatic handguns are the most popular firearms right now.
Individuals wishing to obtain a Minnesota Permit to Carry must apply for the permit with the local sheriff's office and provide proof of approved firearms training.
In Steele County, the records staff at the sheriff's office completes a thorough background investigation before giving the applications to the sheriff for his signature. According to Thiele, some disqualifiers for permits include violations of protection orders, domestic and other assaults with firearms, and harassment. He said mental health cases also play a factor in determining gun permits.
A report from the Minnesota Department of Public Safety Bureau of Criminal Apprehension shows that more than 96,000 permits were issued last year, the most since permits became legal in 2003. In 2019, sheriffs issued 51,404 permits across the state.
According to the report, there were more than 3,100 crimes committed by permit holders last year. In less than 2% of those cases, firearms were used to commit the crime.
State law requires a permit to carry a handgun in public before a gun can be purchased.
In Steele County, the fee for new permits to carry is $100, with some discounts available for veterans and active and retired law enforcement officers. Renewals are generally $75.
Permits to carry are issued by the sheriff's office, while permits to purchase are handled by the local law enforcement agency of where you live.
Steele County Firearms Permits
2020 2019 2018
Permit to Carry 918 352 533
Permit to Purchase 768 360 473
Source: Steele County Sheriff