Permits, gun sales surging

FAIRMONT – Gun permits for purchase and carrying have skyrocketed across the nation, and Martin County is no exception.

The school shooting in Newtown, Conn., in December has pushed the issues of gun violence and regulation into the spotlight. But there are vastly different opinions on how it should be handled, from New York’s recent ban on certain assault rifles and high-capacity ammunition clips, to the National Rifle Association’s call for more guns and armed guards at every school.

The nationwide argument trickles its way down to every county and town.

“A lot of it us due to the president and the press’ attention, which I believe has led to this emotion, this fear of losing gun rights,” said Martin County Sheriff Jeff Markquart. “It’s the concern the public has with the unknown.”

Purchase permits for the county were at 189 in 2012, up from 116 in 2011. Permits to carry saw the biggest jump, 124 in 2012, up from 78 in 2011. By mid-January, 31 permit-to-carry applications had been filed since the start of the new year.

One state regulation for acquiring a permit to carry is to take an authorized firearms training course. Terry Thimesch of Cardinal Outdoors in Fairmont said that along with gun sales being through the roof, firearms safety courses have filled quickly.

“It’s unbelievable,” he said. “The next class is scheduled for March 10 and it’s almost full already. Before the shootings, there were about 12 people in the class. The one after the shootings had 33 people.”

Sales have been so rampant that there is little left in stock.

“[President] Obama’s been the best salesmen of guns we ever had,” Thimesch said. “There is hardly any product to sell. Nine millimeters, .45s, there are none to be had or they’re so high-priced people can’t afford it … We saw some of this the first time Obama was elected, but this time people are going nuts.

“Last time, it took about six to eight months for the racket to come down and things get back to normal. But this time, I think it’s going to be a couple of years. I’ve never seen anything like it … A lot of people are thinking they’re going to pass legislation that will take away guns or permit to carry.”

Again, the rocketing sales reflect a nationwide trend.

“I’m not buying much of anything,” Thimesch said. “With my suppliers in the Twin Cities, I’m usually able to order and they ship the next day. Then it became three days. The last item I ordered took two weeks. They’ve added second shifts and weekends, but they can’t keep up with demand. Even things like shotgun equipment that didn’t see the hike last time are now drying up. People are buying these things just to have them.”

Markquart and Thimesch agree that the extreme fear of “taking away our guns” is not justified.

“There are already so many out there,” Thimesch said, “But things are so up in the air. The Democrats and Republicans fight each other. But here in Minnesota, it’s a little tougher. There are a lot of hunters, so it’s different from New York or California. I’m not sure what good new laws will do, because in Chicago it’s set up so it’s almost impossible to have a gun store, yet they have the highest firearms death rate.”

As President Obama visited Minnesota in regard to gun control Monday, both a list of presidential directives and points presented by the Minnesota Sheriff’s Association seemed to target more mental health issues than the actual firearms.

State issues brought up by association include improving the national database instant criminal background check system, along with better law enforcement access to mental health records.

Other points include improving procedures for inmate competency and civil commitment evaluations and treatments; reviewing Minnesota’s civil commitment law; and assessing the in-patient and outpatient psychiatric resources available to serve those who are mentally ill, including those in the criminal justice system.

“We know that we want to do this unified, whatever we do,” Markquart said.