COLUMBUS - Ohio issued a record 56,691 concealed handgun licenses in 2009, and few observers agree on the reasons why.
The figure tops the previous high of 45,497 set in 2004, when the concealed handgun law first went into effect.
It was also a 67 percent increase from the 33,864 licenses issued in 2008.
"If there's something to take away from these numbers, it is that more and more Ohioans are comfortable exercising their right to carry concealed handguns," said Attorney General Richard Cordray, who released the new figures Friday.
Franklin County, which includes Columbus, ranked first with 3,464 licenses issued.
Jeff Garvas, president of Ohioans for Concealed Carry, an advocacy group for the law, said he believes the record-setting numbers are primarily about the economic downturn.
As people become poorer, they become more desperate and crime tends to increase, he said.
He cited counties with 300-plus percentage increases, such as Auglaize and Putnam.
"I think just the perception of reality from the general populace is: I need to go out and find a way to defend myself," he said.
Jim Irvine, chairman of the Buckeye Firearms Association, said he thinks licenses are up because more people are concerned that President Obama is going to limit gun ownership.
In the first six months of 2009, around the time and soon after Mr. Obama took office, Ohio issued 34,244 permits. That was 380 more licenses than the state issued for all of 2008.
Toby Hoover, executive director of the Ohio Coalition Against Gun Violence, blames firearms supporters for creating a fear of Mr. Obama in order to drive up membership in their groups.