Five years after it became legal for Ohioans to carry concealed firearms, more people lined up for permits than in any year since the law took effect.
A record number of permits also were issued in Michigan last year, and across the country sales of guns and ammunition soared as well. While many cite the Obama factor - some Americans feared the President would take away their right to keep and bear arms - they also say the recession has prompted security fears.
"The economy is causing all these law enforcement officers, whether they're police officers or sheriff's deputies, to get laid off and people realize they're in a situation where they may have to be responsible for their own safety," said Daniel White, executive director of Ohioans for Concealed Carry, a pro-gun lobbying group formed in 1999 to push for a concealed-carry law.
"The flip side is the economy is driving more and more people to crime so you've got more criminals and fewer police officers so what is the general public to do?"
In Toledo, several recent incidents suggest one answer to that question.
Last weekend, workers at two South Toledo stores shot two suspected robbers, one fatally, after, police say, they brandished guns inside the businesses. Last month, a Toledo man who came home to find three suspected burglars inside his house fatally shot one of the intruders and injured another.
"I don't ever feel good that someone has to die. I don't ever feel good that someone got shot," said Jim Irvine, chairman of the Buckeye Firearms Association, a gun-rights advocacy group. "I've talked to many people who have gone through this. None of them are happy or cavalier about it. It's not something anyone ever wants to go through."
Mr. White said that although the incidents are tragic, "if something is going to happen, it's better that it happens to the criminal than an innocent bystander."
That's an attitude that disturbs Toby Hoover, executive director of the Toledo-based Ohio Coalition Against Gun Violence, which wants to see the state's concealed-carry law repealed. "The risk with all of this is we put our world into good guys and bad guys," Ms. Hoover said. "People dismiss life without any other considerations."
Although she is bothered by the rise in concealed-carry-permit holders, she pointed out that the number still represents less than 2 percent of Ohio's adult population. Nationwide, it's estimated that about 40 percent of Americans have gun in their homes - a statistic that, according to Gallup polls, has been consistent since 2000.
As for concealed-carry permits, Mr. Irvine said he believes people are coming to view them as safety tools that can save lives much like seat belts or smoke alarms, and they hope they'll never be in a situation where they need them.
Ms. Hoover said she's concerned the rush to use a firearm is setting a precedent of what's normal behavior. "I hope that we can retain the difference between my life is in danger and you're taking my property," she said. "We don't have the right to kill people over property.
"There's a huge difference between you wanting the five dollars in my pocket and you putting my life in danger. What I'm seeing is a trend for people to react faster, to use lethal force because more people have the gun accessible to them. It's a scary thing."
To purchase a gun, Ohioans must be age 21 or older and submit to a background check. Those with a history of felonies or domestic violence are not eligible.
The FBI says 1.39 million background checks were performed in Ohio from November, 1998, through February, 2010, for people wanting to purchase a handgun.
In Ohio and Michigan, U.S. citizens 21 and older who are residents of the state are eligible for a concealed-carry permit once they have completed a firearm safety course and undergone a criminal background check. Convicted felons and people with a diagnosed mental illness are not eligible.
A booklet explaining Ohio's concealed-carry law is posted on the state attorney general's Web site, ohioattorneygeneral.gov. Among its admonishments:
"The license to carry a concealed handgun comes with the responsibility of being familiar with the law regarding use of deadly force. … In Ohio, deadly force can be used only to prevent serious bodily harm or death. Deadly force can never be used to protect property only. Ohio law does not encourage vigilantism. A license to carry a concealed handgun does not deputize you as a law enforcement agent."
Still, it points out that under the "Castle Doctrine," which the state legislature adopted in 2008, "a person does not have the duty to retreat from the residence that they lawfully occupy before using force in self-defense or defense of another … The law presumes you to have acted in self-defense or defense of another when using deadly force if the victim had unlawfully and without privilege entered or was in the process of entering the residence or vehicle you occupy."
Locally, those who process concealed-carry permits say applications spiked after President Obama was elected and again when former Toledo Mayor Carty Finkbeiner laid off 75 police officers in May, 2009.
"It really picked up then," said Wood County Sheriff's Deputy Kathy Slaughterbeck. "A lot of people did admit to me it was due to the police layoffs, but also a lot of people came in after the election because they were afraid they would lose their right."
Ohio law allows residents to apply for concealed-carry permits in their county of residence or in any adjacent county, and the sheriff's offices in Lucas and Wood counties see a number of residents from across county lines.
Wood County issued 873 new permits last year - an 80 percent increase over 2008 when 484 were issued. In Lucas County, 1,507 permits were issued last year - a 67 percent increase over the year before when 909 were issued.
Permits issued after 2007 are good for five years.
Although Ohioans do not need a concealed-carry permit to have firearms in their homes, Deputy Slaughterbeck said she's processed permits for "a lot of business owners" who say they want to protect their businesses and themselves when they're transporting money to the bank.
Patrice Russell, a deputy clerk who processes concealed-carry permits at the Lucas County Sheriff's Office, said she also has heard applicants expressing concerns about security in light of the waning economy. "A lot of people get [concealed-carry permits] for business purposes too," Ms. Russell said. "They own stores, have their own businesses, and for personal reasons too."
Statewide, 56,691 new permits were issued - the most in one year since the law took effect in April, 2004. Some 45,497 permits were issued to Ohioans in 2004.
In Michigan, where a concealed-carry law took effect in July, 2001, the state issued 66,446 permits last year, compared with 26,578 in 2008. Monroe County had a 255 percent spike - from 388 in 2007-08 to 1,376 in 2008-09.
Contact Jennifer Feehan at:
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